Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: "Midwives" by Chris Bohjalian

Midwives Chris Bohjalian
Paperback Published: November 8, 1988
ISBN-10: 0375706771
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy / Book Club Selection
Recommended for readers looking for a good book club selection

On an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, a seasoned midwife named Sibyl Danforth takes desperate measures to save a baby's life.  She performs an emergency cesarean section on a mother she believes has died of stroke.  But what if Sibyl's patient wasn't dead--and Sibyl inadvertently killed her?

My Thoughts:
I actually first read this book over a decade ago when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club.  All I really remembered of it was that it was set in Vermont, a midwife is on trial because a mother died, it is told from the daughter's point of view, and that it was a solid book that pretty much left me after I had turned the last page.  Obviously, I was going to need to re-read it for my book club.

Because so much has happened in my life since I first read this book (moved to the east coast, moved back to the west coast, went through 3 jobs, got married, had 2 kids), I think my experiences enhanced what I read in this book.  Unlike my first reading, this time the book stayed with me after I finished it--and it is still with me.

There is no argument that Bohjalian is a skilled writer--his prose is deep, but still readable.  I enjoyed how he structured the book, with the main narration coming from Sibyl's daughter, but each chapter being prefaced with Sibyl's own words.  The last half of the book mostly takes place in the courtroom and, as a reader, I felt as if I was a member of the jury.

I did not especially like Sibyl, but I understood her.  I understood what drove her to midwifery and what led her to the fateful decision that landed her in a manslaughter trial.  Sibyl's daughter, Connie, is exactly what I would picture a girl of her age who finds herself in her position would be.  I do wish, however, that Sibyl's husband, Rand, was fleshed out a bit more.

I will say that I have questions about this book.  Are non-certified midwives really as self-trained as Sibyl was?  Does the medical community really have it out for midwives?  Did Sibyl really do the best that she could?  I'm looking forward to my book club discussion on this book because there will be at least one doctor with us.

All in all, this was a great book for me to re-read and I think it will be an excellent selection for our book club.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation.

by Chris Bohjalian


  1. I remember that I read this book over 13 years ago and really liked it but wouldn't let my then-pregnant sister read it. I think he's a good author and I've read a couple of his books but I think this one is the one that stayed with me the most.

  2. I read this book when it first came out. I remember thinking about it well after I closed the book, so I would say I enjoyed it. I find Mr. Bohjalian's books hit or miss for me, unfortunately, though I will not deny his awesome talent.

  3. I enjoyed this when I read it too, Melinda. I just got his book, Trans-Sister Radio. I started it and then stopped, not sure why. It just didn't grab me. I may go back to it later, but now it just wasn't holding my interest.

  4. This is the only book I've read by this author so far, but it gripped me throughout...very compelling moments and issues.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Great review.