Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062825575
Trade paperback, $16.99, 486 pages
Author Patricia Harman lives in West Virginia and is a nurse-midwife, so it's not surprising that her four novels are set in Hope River, West Virginia, and feature a midwife as the main character.
Her newest novel, Once a Midwife, is set in Hope River just as the United States is getting into WWII. Patience Hester is a midwife, wife to local veterinarian Dan, and mom to four young children. The Great Depression is over, and people are doing better financially.
Patience's friend and midwife assistant Bitsy, a black woman, comes back into town after being gone for almost ten years. She has a young white boy, Willie, with her. Bitsy was Willie's nanny, and when his mom died, Bitsy took him in.
The story is told through Patience's journals, and we see life on her family's rural farm, and the closeness of the small community of Hope River. We also get to see Patience at work, delivering babies in the Baby Cabin built by Dan, just outside her home.
We also learn a bit about Patience's earlier life- an orphan, a suffragette, a union organizer and a widow- which is covered in more depth in Harman's The Midwife of Hope River. (After reading Once a Midwife, I will be reading that one as well.)
Patience and Dan are deeply in love, but the looming crisis of WWII causes a major rift between them. Dan fought in WWI, and he was horrified by the things he saw and had to do. He swore he would never go to war again.
Patience believes that the atrocities that the Nazis and Japanese are inflicting on people cannot go unaddressed. Many people in Hope River are very supportive of the US involvement in WWII, and they don't understand Dan's refusal to even register for the draft.
Dan takes a moral stand and refuses to budge, not even when he is imprisoned for refusing to register. His family also suffers the consequences for Dan's decision. The children are taunted and get into fights, and Patience is run ragged trying to keep up with the farm and her midwife responsibilities.
Once a Midwife gives the reader an insight into life in a small town at this point in history. We see how people deal with racism, the consequences of taking an unpopular stand, and how small towns come together to support each other in good times and bad.
One interesting topic covered is the use of German and Japanese POW labor in the United States during the war. It's not something that is well-known. The POWs were shipped to the United States, and many of them worked on farms because there was such a shortage of labor with so many men at war. I found that section fascinating.
Once a Midwife is a terrific book for those who like historical fiction, and Harman ties some things happening today in our country with things going on back then that will make you think.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Patricia Harman's tour. The rest of her stops are here: