The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls: A Novel

Written by Ursula Hegi
Review by Jo Ann Butler

The Ludwig Zirkus comes to Germany’s Nordstrand Island every summer, thrilling the town with trained animals in painted wagons, acrobats, and clowns. Even the “unfortunates” from St. Margaret’s Home for Pregnant Girls watch the circus with their guardian nuns.

However, in 1878 the town’s joy is smashed when a freak wave, far bigger than any the island’s Oldest Person has ever seen, surges in from the North Sea. Lotte Jansen, wading at the tide’s edge with her young children, has three torn from her hands forever. In despair, she casts baby Wilhelm into the murky waves, begging God to take him in return for the others.

Eleven-year old Tilli cradles her belly during the search until overcome by cramps and goes into labor on the beach. She is not allowed to keep her child, and her parents cast her away because the baby was fathered by her twin brother. Instead, the Sisters take Tilli to the Jansens’ home to suckle Lotte’s baby. A third mother is on the beach that fateful day; Sabine, the circus’s seamstress, and her adult daughter, Heike, join the search. Sabine keeps a close eye on Heike, for the simple-minded woman will need protection for the rest of her life.

Best-selling author Ursula Hegi presents fortunate readers with a new tour de force in The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls. Her earthy and ethereal story unites an unlikely female trio who support each other across the flow of seasons, the circus’s meandering travels, and the inconstancy of their men. I loved Ms. Hegi’s vivid portrayals; and her women, whether conniving, tender, or briskly competent, will draw you into their welcoming arms. Thoroughly recommended.