12 reviews

Midwives (Oprah's Book Club)
by Chris Bohjalian

Published: 1998-11-08
Paperback : 374 pages
23 members reading this now
56 clubs reading this now
38 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 12 of 12 members
A contemporary classic that has sold more than two million copies and was a selection of Oprah's original Book Club, Midwives is a compulsively readable novel that explores questions of human responsibility that are as fundamental to our society now as they were when the book was ...
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A contemporary classic that has sold more than two million copies and was a selection of Oprah's original Book Club, Midwives is a compulsively readable novel that explores questions of human responsibility that are as fundamental to our society now as they were when the book was first published twenty years ago. 
On an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, a seasoned midwife named Sibyl Danforth takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performs an emergency cesarean section on a mother she believes has died of stroke. But what if—as Sibyl's assistant later charges—the patient wasn't already dead?   The ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt, forcing Sibyl to face the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience. Exploring the complex and emotional decisions surrounding childbirth, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

Editorial Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1998: On a violent, stormy winter night, a home birth goes disastrously wrong. The phone lines are down, the roads slick with ice. The midwife, unable to get her patient to a hospital, works frantically to save both mother and child while her inexperienced assistant and the woman's terrified husband look on. The mother dies but the baby is saved thanks to an emergency C-section. And then the nightmare begins: the assistant suggests that maybe the woman wasn't really dead when the midwife operated:
Did she perform at least eight or nine cycles as my mother said, or four or five as Asa recalled? That is the sort of detail that was disputable. But at some point within minutes of what my mother believed had been a stroke, after my mother concluded the cardiopulmonary resuscitation had failed to generate a pulse or a breath, she screamed for Asa and Anne to find her the sharpest knife in the house.
In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981. Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath.

Narrated by a now adult Connie, Midwives moves back and forth in time, fitting vital pieces of information about what happened that night like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into its complicated plot. As Connie looks back on her mother's trial, she is still trying to understand what happened--not on the night of the disaster--but in the months and years that followed. --Margaret Prior


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Book Club Recommendations

See if there are real life stories about midwivery
by madriver (see profile) 12/02/15
Two members recalled seeing a similar story on 60 minutes (or 20-20) some years ago, but couldn't remember the specifics. I think those would have been interesting if we had thought to check that out. One member wondered if there was any significance to the Midwife's name, esp with its unusual spelling.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  " Mostly positive reaction"by Sharon M. (see profile) 04/05/18

Our club had a mostly positive response and discussed the lawyer, boyfriend, Sybil, and daughter as main characters. Issues were the daughter's final action and her observations of her parents and also... (read more)

  "Midwives "by Maureen B. (see profile) 01/11/18

  "Not a book that men will like"by Maria L. (see profile) 12/02/15

...so it's interesting that it was written by a man. Our group felt like the impressions of a 14-year old girl just didn't work, and that hurt the book. Also, some found it very slow going, but liked... (read more)

  "midwives"by sue c. (see profile) 10/27/15

It was a lively discussion at our meeting. Most people were drawn to the book and characters from the beginning of the book. We found very it informative on a subject most of us knew little about. It... (read more)

  "Midwives"by Heidi K. (see profile) 03/08/12

At first, I had a hard time getting into this book. The graphic details were too much. I never saw the word vulva and other female anatomy parts in print so repeatedly. As I read, I became deeply involved... (read more)

  "Interesting read"by Char J. (see profile) 11/17/11

I found this book to be quite real and at times suspenseful. It's about a midwife who is forced to make a spilt second decision and ends up on trial for it. Near the end I couldn't put it down. Great book.... (read more)

  "Good story with the potential to spark a lot of conversation"by Jennifer H. (see profile) 05/12/11

Sybil Danforth is a lay-midwife practicing for over a decade when one snowy morning, a laboring mother passes away during labor. To save the baby, Sybil performs a c-section. Baby is born al... (read more)

  "midwives"by chris h. (see profile) 03/23/11

The story of a modern day midwife in a small Vermont town is told through the eyes of her young teenage daughter. Her teenage angst is magnified by the need to help her parents through the catastrophe... (read more)

  "Midwives"by Julie C. (see profile) 01/29/11

  "Couldn't put it down"by Jennifer C. (see profile) 01/21/11

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