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4.3 out of 5 stars52
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Showing 1-10 of 16 reviews(4 star). Show all reviews
on August 16, 2006
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 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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on March 27, 2012
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 a most attractive heroine in young Dora Rare, who becomes the midwife to her small community. The place -- a real one -- is Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, a small fishing and shipbuilding village at the tip of a rocky peninsula in the Bay of Fundy, isolated from the larger town of Canning by an intervening mountain. The time is roughly that of the First World War, and though the munitions explosion in Halifax and the Spanish Flu epidemic in Boston both play a part in the story, its focus is mainly on the women remaining in the village after the men have left.

Among these is Dora, reputedly the only girl child ever born to a Rare man. As a girl, she strikes up a friendship with Marie Babineau, an old Acadian woman who subsists on the charity of the local women in return for her services as a herbalist, healer, and midwife, "catching" babies as they come into the world, or occasionally undoing their conception; her only aim is to help. Dora becomes her apprentice while still in her early teens, and eventually takes over, although she also keeps a foot in the more normal social life of the village. The contrast between old half-superstitious wisdom and modern science is one of the few plot tensions in the book, especially with the arrival of Dr. Gilbert Thomas, a practitioner of obstetrics and an early form of for-profit managed care. McKay tilts the playing-field, however, by making Thomas all too ready to bring out the chloroform, forceps, and scalpel, and showing him totally blind to the emotional needs of his patients. While she paints a valuable picture of the early feminist struggle for autonomy in women's health, it is hard not to read this as a polemic for her own day also.

McKay, who lives in a former birth house herself, has done an impressive amount of research into social, medical, and maritime history, herbalism, and folklore. There is even a beautifully-illustrated herbiary at the end of the novel. Her book is a treasure-trove of tidbits of knowledge. The problem with this, however, is less her few inaccuracies (such as mentioning transistor radios three decades before their time) than the difficulty of maintaining narrative tension while writing essentially in scrapbook form, with vignettes, journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings intercutting the mainly first-person account. This is especially true at the end, where the novel settles down gracefully into a series of glimpses. Though similar in subject and setting, it has none of the wildness or tension of Michael Crummey's GALORE. It is not a book I shall want to keep on my own shelves, but I shall certainly send it to my pregnant daughter, in some confidence that she will like it.
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on January 25, 2012
You can also read my reviews here: [...]l

As with Water for Elephants, this book sat on my 'to-read' list way too long. After finally picking it up from the library, I almost returned it without reading because it just didn't appeal to me. However, I am so happy that I opted to read rather than return.

I loved how the author, Ami McKay, wrote this story. It amazes me to think that the story actually takes place in the early 1900's and during WWI. Other than when the story actually mentioned the war or the fact that there wasn't electricity, you wouldn't have known that it wasn't a modern day story.

Also, I really enjoyed reading about midwifery. I chose to have a 'modern' birth when I had my son (ie. hospital with doctors) but have heard of so many wonderful stories of the 'midwife experience'. By the end of The Birth House, midwifes were becoming extinct and doctors becoming the way of the world... nowadays, it seems as if things are moving back in the other direction as more and more people chose to use a midwife over a doctor for their birthing experience. If only the people of Scots Bay knew this, it would have saved so much trouble

Overall, The Birth House was a wonderful debut novel by a Canadian author. It is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a story about a mother struggle to choose between what everyone says is right and what she feels is right in her heart
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The author's first novel is rather unique in its presentation. There are replica newspaper articles and advertisements, as well as poems, letters, diary pages and herbal medicinal recipes included with the narrative. This creative device works well to create temporal ambiance and cultural articulation.

The story takes place in a small coastal village in Nova Scotia during World War I. Dora Rare tells how, when yet a teenager, she becomes involved with assisting a Cajun/Acadian midwife, Miss Babineau. In time she becomes Miss B's confidant and--because she was the only girl among many brother siblings--moved into the elder's humble shack to learn her unequalled wisdom in the art of midwifery, knowledge of herbal remedies and spiritistic superstitions. Dora virtually inherits a great deal of Miss B's persona. Despite her young age she becomes a trusted advisor to the women of the village in all matters relating to pregnancy, sex and illness. The reader experiences the problems, pains and injustices of the times, including Dora's own troubled relationships, with her brutal husband, and with an antagonistic medical doctor who constantly intervenes in her own, and other women's lives. The struggle for women's rights, gaining a credible voice in the community, and overcoming ignorance and masculine dominance become central themes in how this narrative unfolds.

I enjoyed this book mostly for its local colour, its examples of heart-warmingly supportive female friendships and its generous sprinklings of down-to-earth/earthy profundity.
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on April 4, 2010
This book was a really enjoyable one and it was a page turner and I couldn't put it down like many other best-sellers, however there was, in my opinion, a major flaw. I felt like the author didn't really understand the psychology, values, and behaviour of the people in her story's time period. The "good" characters had very modern perspectives, and their opinions on certain things such as female rights and others, did not truly reflect the time period. The "bad" characters, though, held what we consider today traditional, out-dated views. This did not sit well with me because I feel it is reflective of the author's modern-day views, rather than a realistic representation of a true early 20th century Nova Scotia town. Also there was very much promiscuity in the novel, but real people in their shoes would have had very different values from ours today. Although Dora's trip to the city might have been more or less accurate, her account of the townspeople was pretty inaccurate.
But disregarding the historical aspect, it's a good read.
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on September 13, 2006
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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on March 21, 2012
I first read Ami McKay`s second book written in Nova Scotia, The Virgin Cure, and fell in love with the 12-year-old Moth. And so I bought McKay`s first book written in my province, The Birth House. It`s an excellent read, obviously reminiscent of the saga (mostly blown out of all proportion and blatantly ignoring the facts)of the Butterbox Baby House in East Chester; but Dora isn`t as endearing a character to me as is the brave and enchanting Moth. Ami McKay is an exciting find. I look forward to future pleasures from her pen.
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on January 2, 2007
I LOVED this book. I was browsing around and came upon this book and just happened to buy it for no other reason than that I was extremely bored and wanted something to read. The cover caught my eye so I bought it. Once I started reading, I was hooked. This is an awesome, powerful story and I really felt like I was sent back in time and was walking alongside Dora Rare throughout the entire read. I can't wait for Ami McKay to write something else, I will be waiting anxiously to order it.
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on February 16, 2009
The Birth House was such an interesting read. I especially liked the relationship between the male doctor who thought that he knew so much about women and the birthing of children. She went to him to be treated,and soon realized he was an idiot and a little spooky, and then worked very hard to protect other women from his quackery. He reminds me of some other real doctors of that era, who tried to convince women that human breast milk was harmful to human babies.

Lorna LePoidevin
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on August 29, 2006
I purchased this book because it happened to be in the side bar on the amazon page I was on.. and I needed one more item to get the free shipping. I was surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I did.

A whole other time, a whole different society, but not all that different people. I found myself giggling and smiling, sometimes crying to myself throughout the book. I'd recommend it to any woman.
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