The Birth House

Written by Ami McKay
Review by Sally Zigmond


This novel, already and deservedly a best-seller in Canada, tells the story of Dora Rare and her struggles to maintain a holistic, woman-led approach to childbirth and women’s health in the first half of the 20th century. Dora has learned all she knows from Miss Babineau and her deeply spiritual knowledge and wisdom. When a new doctor arrives in her small Nova Scotia coastal community advocating ‘modern’ interventionist methods of childbirth, the scene is set for a battle of wills that splits the community.

The author is a fresh new voice in Canadian writing, and she stylishly re-creates the pioneer days of Nova Scotia with a fine eye for descriptive detail and history. Her characters are fully rounded people and belong to their environment. Wise, wry, witty and yet deeply serious, this novel reminds me of the novel L. M. Montgomery might have written about Anne Shirley had she been allowed, and had her heroine chosen to become a midwife and not a teacher. The small town prejudices and tittle-tattle are all there but the tone is darker, yet not oppressive. This is a novel of hope, wisdom and humanity. What more could you ask for?