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The Birth House


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/ Lead title / Includes PS Section Spanning the 20th century Ami McKay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth from its most secretive early practices to modern maternity as we know it. / 'The Birth House' is a brilliant historical fiction debut from the publishers of Geraldine Brooks. / Award winning journalist, Ami McKay provides an insightful and well researched account of how maternity and midwifery has progressed and developed. / McKay brings to life not merely Dora Rare, but the struggles of an entire community of women.

About the Author

Ami McKay has worked as a radio journalist, and her documentary, `Daughter of Family G', won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards. When she moved with her family to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she learned that their new home was once known as the birth house. This is her first novel.


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 2006 Reed Business Information.

'Ami McKay cleverly points out the good and the bad in both old and new attitudes, while contemporary newspaper reports and advertisements illustrate the pace of change.' Guardian 'Ami McKay's debut novel vividly captures the apparently quaint world inhabited by the people of Scot's Bay, Canada. McKay creates a magical world, and her exquisite descriptions draw the reader further and further from reality.' Time Out 'This is a truly captivating read, set in early 19th-century Novia Scotia. The story weaves lyrical detail of the natural beauty in which these pioneer families live with the pricklier reality of the First World War era, when centuries-old folk wisdom collides with science. The underlying theme of the shared strength that women give each other in hard circumstances lends this tale a solid bedrock.' SHE '"The Birth House" has a spirited momentum and it is difficult not to be swept along by it. Her writing is often beautiful, with colourful turns of phrase that mirror the earthiness of her setting, and her protagonist'. Sunday Business Post 'By turns lyrical and gripping, brimming with historical detail and with a touching love story at the core, "The Birth House" brings to life a time, place and traditions long forgotten.' Irish Post

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 Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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