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Birth House (McKay) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
The Birth House is a poignant, compassionate, bittersweet and nostalgic look at early 20th-century Nova Scotia…. Reading McKay’s novel is like dipping into a saner, more intimate, past; a past that’s long gone…. McKay is not only a new author to note, but one to look forward to with anticipation.
National Post (Canada)


From the beginning of Ami McKay’s debut novel, The Birth House, we know we’re in for a bit of magic…. The Birth House is compelling and lively, beautifully conjuring a close-knit community and reminding us, as Dora notes, that the miracle happens not in birth but in the love that follows.
Globe and Mail (Canada)


The Birth House is filled with charming detail.… McKay has a quiet and lyrical style that suits her subject.… [It is] a story of individual human tenderness and endurance…. McKay is clearly a talented writer with a subtle sense of story, one that readers will look forward to hearing from, again and again.
Montreal Gazette


An astonishing debut, a book that will break your heart and take your breath away.
Ottawa Citizen


Canadian radio-journalist McKay was unable to ferret out the life story of late midwife Rebecca Steele, who operated a Nova Scotia birthing center out of McKay's Bay of Fundy house in the early 20th century; the result of her unsatisfied curiousity is this debut novel. McKay writes in the voice of shipbuilder's daughter, Dora Rare, "the only daughter in five generations of Rares," who as a girl befriends the elderly and estranged Marie Babineau, long the local midwife (or traiteur), who claims to have marked Dora out from birth as her successor. After initial reluctance and increasingly intensive training, 17-year-old Dora moves in with Marie; on the eve of Dora's marriage to Archer Bigelow, Marie disappears, leaving Dora her practice. A difficult marriage, many difficult births, a patient's baby thrust on her to raise without warning and other crises (including WWI and the introduction of "clinical" birthing methods) ensue. Period advertisments, journal entries and letters to and from various characters give Dora's voice context. The book is more about the texture of Dora's life than plot, and McKay handles the proceedings with winning, unsentimental care.
Publishers Weekly


In this dazzling first novel, McKay takes her readers to an isolated rural community in Nova Scotia, where the men fish and log, and the women do everything in between. At 17, Dara Rare is taken under the wing of the aged midwife, Acadian Marie Babineau. Dara loves Marie fiercely and learns her wisdom and craft accordingly. Although Marie and Dara are occasionally viewed as witches, the local women rely on them until the arrival of Dr. Gilbert Thomas. He does his best to turn the local women away from traditional midwifery to his modern maternity hospital. The plotting leaves a lot to be desired, but McKay is such a wonderful storyteller with a strong sense of place and time that all is forgiven. The Indiana-born author now lives in Nova Scotia; this novel, a book club natural, has been a best seller in Canada since its publication early this spring and deserves the same status here. Highly recommended for all public libraries. —Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR.
Library Journal


Men may be dogs and romance a joke, but for two country midwives in early-20th-century Canada, there's always the joy of "catching" babies. Dora Rare is an anomaly, the first female to be born into the family for five generations. She and her six siblings, all boys, bunk down together in their home in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, until her impoverished shipbuilder father sends her to live with Miss B., an elderly Cajun midwife. Dora, 17 and never been kissed, is soon assisting with a delivery, and Miss B. designates the young woman her successor. The midwife is not without enemies. It's 1917, and the money-grubbing Dr. Thomas has established his maternity home nearby, hoping to drive Miss B. out of business. But the old lady forces the doctor to admit he has yet to deliver his first baby. Meanwhile, a marriage is being arranged for Dora, to ladies' man Archer, son of the wealthy Widow Bigelow. Dora, who has low expectations ("A love affair in Scots Bay would just look foolish"), goes along. Archer drinks heavily, abuses her and disappears three months after the wedding. But Dora is coming into her own as a midwife (Miss B. has vanished). When Brady Ketch, the community's most vicious husband and father, dumps his battered 13-year-old daughter on her doorstep, Dora can't save the young mother, but delivers a healthy baby, aided by a crow's feather and some pepper. This is grim material, but McKay has a light touch, and narrator Dora goes her own sweet way, adopting the baby and sighing with relief when she learns Archer has drowned. She's not afraid to bar Dr. Thomas with a pitchfork when he tries to interrupt a delivery, or to eventually live with Archer's kindly brother Hart as his lover, not his wife. This unclassifiable debut was a bestseller in Canada, helped no doubt by its challenging vision of old-fashioned midwives as feminist pioneers.
Kirkus Reviews




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