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The Birth House [Deckle Edge] [Paperback]

Ami McKay
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 22.00
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Book Description

March 6 2007
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Dora Rare is the first girl in five generations born to the Rare family who live in a small Nova Scotia fishing village. Set in the years before World War I, this down-to-earth novel relates the life story of a most unusual woman. In her youth, Dora apprentices to Miss Babineau, an aged Acadian midwife known for her storytelling and herbal acumen. She is also considered something of a witch by those locals most desperate to embrace modernity. The arrival in the village of Dr. Gilbert Thomas, a doctor of obstetrics, sets up the major conflict of the novel as the haughty and presumptuous newcomer quickly denigrates the use of midwives by the local women. McKay has caught the voice of rural Nova Scotia with uncanny clarity ("A breech baby’s just waitin' on trouble") and adds period documents from local newspapers, including an advertisement for an early vibrator from Sweden. Altogether this is a richly satisfying novel filled with intriguing characters, both good and evil, as well as voluminous lore on birthing traditions, herbs and earthy wisdom. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Canadian radiojournalist 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. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down July 12 2007
Format:Paperback
I bought this book on a whim. I'd never heard of it before, but the cover just...caught my eye. And the charming binding made me pick it up. I wasn't dissappointed. It took me...a day to read it, 12 hours maybe, of solid reading, because try as I might, I couldn't bear to set it down for long. The story just...completely drew me in, and the characters make you fall in love with them from the very first chapter. This book made me laugh and cry and rage all in a single chapter...and provoking such an emotional response...is one of the hardest jobs an author has. Also, the additions of a glossary, recipe and other little fun tidbits in the back of the book were delightful. The perfect book for the summer.

Here's to tea with mitts!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Treasure April 14 2006
By Jhuzen Ketsugo TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The story of Dora Rare's Life, Love, Profession, and Compassion is not only Compelling, It's Inspiring. Amy McKay Paints a picture of life in an isolated village in Nova Scotia during WWII. Dora is drawn into the world of the holistic midwife, helping to bring new life into the world. Yet with the sweet comes the sour, Dora often learns to ease fragile souls onto their next journey. As an Obstetrical Nurse, I found the details of Dora's work both fascinating and true to life. But beyond my personal connection with this book, it is truly a great novel.
A must read, can't put it down, page turner!!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok Read - Nothing Spectacular July 7 2006
Format:Hardcover
While I am normally a huge fan of historical fiction, I was not that impressed by this novel. I found the characters to be underdeveloped and the plot stilted. I found myself skipping over a lot of superfluous information that did nothing to further the story or enhance the characters. Before I get yelled at by those who love the book, I would like to say that I very much enjoyed the glimpse into the history of midwives/birth and woman's rights as well as the subtle yet clever parallels between the two. (IE the "birth" of women's rights and freedoms). However, I still felt it could have benefited from a good editor and the fleshing out of the plot.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't get enough of The Birth House June 6 2007
Format:Paperback
When I bought this book in the Toronto airport, I was looking forward to having an interesting read to Vancouver. Little did I know that this book would consume my every thought. I couldn't put it down! I stayed awake the entire flight reading it and couldn't wait to read more. I must say that when I finished this book, I was quite upset, and still am, that it was done. A really excellent read!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise Aug. 16 2006
Format:Hardcover
I was drawn to this book by its strking cover and the locale of the story - - an area of this country that I enjoy every summer with my daughter. What a welcome surprise that the story itself turns out to be even better than the package & the lure of coastal Nova Scotia. I found the book particularly thought provoking given some the present day assaults being launched on women's reproductive rights both north and south of the border. Plus ca change...it would seem.

For anyone who enjoyed Lori Lansen's Rush Home Road, The Birth House is guaranteed to please. A tender and thoughtful addition to the wealth of contemporary Canadian literature that we are so fortunate to have at our fingertips.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ami McKay is a fantastic writer! May 12 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read both Ami McKay's books and both are just amazing! She is just a wonderful writer and really brings you into the time peroid and lives of these characters. I love the fact that the underlying current in both books is women and their rights and women banding together and taking control of their bodies. In this one, it's about a woman's right to decide how and where she will have her baby. Not the doctors decision or her husbands. As well it's about women choosing when to have babies. So empowering. Dora Rare is an unwilling midwife to begin with and then finds her power and place in the village as a savour to the women there. Truely a great read for any woman.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and Compelling! Sept. 13 2006
Format:Hardcover
Congratulations, Ami, on a fabulous first novel.

A young girl, Dora Rare, moves in with an elderly small town midwife or 'traiteur' who claims that Dora will take over her birthing business. Marie Babineau trains the young girl in the ways that only tradition can teach.

The story takes place over a number of years, seeing the main character married, giving birth to her own children and raising someone else's child. Dora is caught between the old ways and new, modern birthing practices. The story evolves slowly, deeply and emotionally.

As a fellow Canadian author, it is uplifting to see Canadian fiction so well accepted. I too write about Canadian locales, but haven't yet made it to the east coast in my books yet. Having lived in New Brunswick and traveled to Nova Scotia, I think McKay has painted a quaint and realistic picture of how life was (and maybe still is to some extent), with characters that live and breathe. Canadian fiction is alive and well, thanks to authors like Ami McKay!

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to delve into the emotions and lives of small town Nova Scotia. But warning...bring Kleenex!

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, [...]
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Stereotypical and Unfunny Tripe Oct. 22 2010
Format:Paperback
In 2003 my daughter was born with the aid of midwives in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. They were godsends (and have become lifelong friends in the process). It was my first education into the world of midwifery and my wife and I are fully in support of the resurgence. It would stand to reason that I'd be drawn to Ami McKay's the birth house, which tells the story of a fictional midwife in early 1900s Nova Scotia.

What a colossal disappointment. Lately it seems that I've been drawn to a lot of stories that reveal the underside and complexities of small town life (in particular To Kill a Mockingbird and Dogville). At the beginning of the birth house it appeared that I'd be treated to another one of these tales:

"Men wagered their lives with the sea for the honour of these vessels."

"As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at
home."

"When husbands, fathers and sons were kept out in the fog longer than was safe, the women stood at their windows, holding their lamps..."

The problem was McKay never really got beyond this stereotypical view of maritime life, whereas the aforementioned stories excelled by stripping away the layers. In a lot of ways the birth house reminded me of E. Annie Proulx's faulted presentation of Newfoundland.

One exception was protagonist, Dora Rare. Another annoyance: McKay's ridiculous names. Had this read like a fable perhaps she could have gotten away with such silliness, but anchoring the story in such real-life events as the Halifax explosion and the 1st World War prevented any surreal experience she may have been going for. The Rares haven't had a male born in 5 generations, which makes Dora even more rare- wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Enjoyed the Maritime Stories of olden days. Great description of Scots Bay N.S.
Published 9 days ago by J.C.P.E.I.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I love books that related to historical content this book was exciting to read and historical facts as well. Good read.
Published 6 months ago by Karen
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome story
this is a great read. i usually don't read books again but this one will be being read again. I got one for all of my sisters as well!
Published 8 months ago by Megan Corkum
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put it down
This book shows you a different way of life in a different time! I loved it. It was a little strange and very true at the same time. Read more
Published 11 months ago by nicole fleming
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book
I love this book so much. It has a great story and protagonist, and the story is compelling. I could not put it down until the end. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Heather
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book
One of my favorite books ever and I've recommended it to so many women. My daughter also loved it and included it in her monthly book club in Qatar. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Suzanne Sauve
4.0 out of 5 stars Ordered for someone else
This was ordered for a friend who is part of a book club. So, I don't know anything about the book itself. Sorry...
Published 20 months ago by G. Savage
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourites...
This is story is beautifully written and very engaging. I was immediately drawn into the story and could not put the book down. I ended up finishing the story in just a few days. Read more
Published on April 23 2012 by Torontogirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Enduring
A lovely story of a country girl who befriends a local woman who is a midwife. The community in Nova Scotia, Canada,finds the midwife to be odd. Read more
Published on April 10 2012 by Julia
4.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Scrapbook
It is easy to see why this charming book has become a Canadian best-seller. It takes readers back to a time and place where life was simpler, though more elemental, and introduces... Read more
Published on March 27 2012 by Roger Brunyate
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