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The time is 1981, and Sibyl Danforth has been a dedicated midwife in the rural community of Reddington, Vermont, for fifteen years. But one treacherous winter night, in a house isolated by icy roads and failed telephone lines, Sibyl takes desperate measures to save a baby's life. She performs an emergency Caesarean section on its mother, who appears to have died in labor. But what if—as Sibyl's assistant later charges—the patient wasn't already dead, and it was Sibyl who inadvertently killed her?

As recounted by Sibyl's precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Connie, the ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt except for the fact that all its participants are acting from the highest motives—and the defendant increasingly appears to be guilty. As Sibyl Danforth faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

384 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 1997

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About the author

Chris Bohjalian is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 24 books. His work has been translated into 35 languages and become three movies and an Emmy-nominated TV series.

Look for his next novel on March 19, 2024: THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS. (Yes, you can preorder it as a hardcover, eBook, or on audio wherever you buy books.)

The paperback of THE LIONESS went on sale this summer. It is already in development for a limited TV series from e One and Marsh Entertainment. A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood star and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller, about which the New York Times wrote in its spring preview, "Bohjalian steers this runaway Land Rover of a story into some wildly entertaining territory." The Boston Globe wrote, "Bohjalian, one of our finest storytellers, weaves his spellbinding magic."   

Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist all gave it starred reviews.

His 2021 novel, HOUR OF THE WITCH, is a tale of historical suspense set in 1662 Boston, a story of the first divorce in North America for domestic violence -- and a subsequent witch trial. Diana Gabaldon in her review in the Washington Post called it "historical fiction at its best." Danielle Trussoni in the New York Times called it "harrowing."

His 2020 novel, “The Red Lotus,” is a twisting story of love and deceit: an American man vanishes on a rural road in Vietnam and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor trained to ask questions, follows a path that leads her home to the very hospital where they met, and is also in development for a TV series. In the New York Times, Sarah Lyall called it, “Terrific. . .[an] elegant noose of a plot. . .Bohjalian is a pleasure to read. He writes muscular, clear, propulsive sentences. . .As suspenseful as it is, The Red Lotus is also unexpectedly moving — about friendship, about the connections between people and, most of all, about the love of parents for children and of children for parents. Bohjalian is a writer with a big heart and deep compassion for his characters.”

His 2018 novel, “The Flight Attendant,” debuted as a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and National Indiebound Bestseller. It is now HBO Max TV series, starring Kaley Cuoco.  Season two landed in April 2022.

He is also a playwright and screenwriter. He has a new play, "The Club," arriving at the George Street Playhouse in February 2024, 

His other plays include his adaptation of his novel, "Midwives," and "Wingspan," (originally called "Grounded").

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts; the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia’s Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; a Best Lifestyle Column for “Idyll Banter” from the Vermont Press Association; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives,was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He was a weekly columnist in Vermont for The Burlington Free Press from 1992 through 2015.

Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst C

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5 stars
49,736 (31%)
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66,602 (42%)
3 stars
34,658 (21%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,847 reviews
Profile Image for Chana.
1,590 reviews145 followers
January 7, 2011
It was very well-written, but I read it with mixed feelings. When I was done I had to say that I didn't like it. The author says many positive things about midwifery but in the final analysis it really is an indictment of lay midwifery and home birth. I gave birth to 5 children at home: 1 with an old-time doctor and 4 with a lay midwife. I had 3 at the hospital: 1 without drugs, 1 with an epidural, and 1 with a C/S. So I feel qualified by experience to at least comment. My home births were by far my better birthing experiences, especially those with the lay midwife, and all of those children were born whole and healthy, thank G-d. Home is private and sacred and if your midwife is competent and you are in good health with a normal fetus and pregnancy then I am all for home birth. I'll try not to bore you with birth details but I have had a couple of bad experiences in the hospital: 1. doctor yelling "what the hell are you doing?!!" at me when I rolled onto my side during labor rather than staying flat on my back. That child was not in danger btw and was born healthy shortly thereafter. 2. nearly losing the C/S child because the hospital delivery staff didn't believe the lay midwife who said the child had to be born by C/S and thereby making us go through trial of labor before rushing me into a emerg C/S delivery like a Monty Python skit. My C/S child lived and there is no doubt that both of us would have died if not for the C/S as he was a PWS baby with very low muscle tone and he was a face presentation as well. Basically he was like a limp noodle in utero with his face against the cervix and he wasn't going to be born without surgical intervention. BUT the midwife knew he was face presentation at 8 months and suspected an anomaly as stress tests showed his heart rate was too flat. The hospital paid her no heed and my child's heart was slowing down and then stopping in 2nd stage labor in the hospital setting managed by hospital staff, hence the EMERGENCY C/S, which could have been performed without the emergency part if the doctors had listened to the midwife or me. Now how is this mis-judgment on the part of the hospital staff so different from the mis-judgements made on the part of the lay midwife in this book? She actually did pretty well, saving the life of the child. I guess what the author wants you to recognize is that if the hospital makes mistakes they have everything right there, surgical suites and all, to correct their error. But you know what? Hospital staff make mistakes all the time but they are better protected against the consequences of their mistakes. If lay midwifery were supported in this country with certification for midwives to deliver at home with a support system of doctors, hospitals and emergency transportation then we could have women deliver at home with less risk. ALL birth entails risk. There is an attempt in this book to link home birth with hippies and all that that lifestyle might entail. I really resent the idea that home birth is less hygienic than hospital birth when the fact is hospitals are home to a plethora of the very worst germs around. It is, as I said, a well-written indictment and no amount of story-telling and fictionalizing and choice of narrator changes that.
Profile Image for smetchie.
148 reviews97 followers
September 15, 2012

I have no idea how Chris Bohjalian wrote the voice of a 14-year-old girl so well that it actually made me remember what it felt like to be 14. AND against my will, mind you. I would do anything to never feel 14 again. There are many other wonderful things about this book. But it's enough to say read it because here is a man writing in the perfect 14-year-old-girl voice and that's some amazing motherfucking writing.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews27 followers
November 9, 2019
Midwives, Chris Bohjalian
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 a stroke. But what if Sibyl's patient wasn't dead—and Sibyl inadvertently killed her? Midwives tells the story of Sibyl Danforth from the point of view of her young daughter.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نهم ماه اکتبر سال 2017 میلادی
عنوان: محاکمه؛ نویسنده: کریس بوجالین؛ مترجم: مهرداد بازیاری؛ تهران: کتابسرای تندیس‏‫، ‏‫‬‏1395؛ در 416 ص؛ شابک: 9786001822209؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20 م‬

در یک شب زمستانی سرد در یک خانه در روستای ورمونت، یک «ماما» به نام «سیبل دانفورت» اقدامات نومیدانه ای را برای نجات جان یک کودک انجام میدهد. او سزارین اورژانس را روی مادری انجام داد، که به باور وی بر اثر سکته مغزی درگذشت. «محاکمه (ماماها)» داستان «سیبل دانفورت» را از دیدگاه دختر جوانش میگوید. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for LeiAnn.
664 reviews14 followers
January 11, 2012
The premise of the book is that a very experienced lay (not certified) midwife has a messy delivery in a patient's home in which the mother ends up dying. In order to save the baby when her efforts at CPR fail, she performs a cesarean on the mother. The baby, incidently, does live because of her efforts. However, her inexperienced assistant and the father of the baby both have their doubts about whether or not the mother was actually dead at the time of the incision, and the midwife goes to trial for manslaughter.

I liked the story and the relationships between the midwife's family and friends (and lawyers) as told by her teenaged daughter. The author does a good job of creating suspense, and I did find myself drawn into it. I really wanted to find out whether or not the mother would be convicted or not, and really, whether or not she killed her patient. I won't spoil the end for you, but I will say I was surprised and sick when I read it.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
360 reviews23 followers
February 4, 2010
I LOVED this book, which was totally unexpected. It was absolutely riveting for me. There wasn't a slow part in it.
I really enjoyed the organization, with the journal entries, and the tone associated with the author's reflections (kind of "if only..."). It made the whole book feel like you were hearing an exciting story first hand, where the story-teller felt compelled to add little bits of insight or extra information along the way to help enhance your experience. I really enjoyed how it begins and especially how it ends. WHAT AN ENDING!!! Makes me think of the relationship between justice and mercy.
I loved the setting and the pace of the criminal trial proceedings. I had read "Civil Action" before and it was far too mundanely/tediously detailed and slow-moving for me. The court case in "Midwives" was a LOT better, and it would make a substantially better movie too.
The characters were great as well. Their relationships with each other were interesting and realistic without being overdramatic. Normally I don't appreciate a male author writing a story from a woman's perspective --especially a subject that is this feminine -- but I think Chris Bohjalian did a fantastic job.

FABULOUS BOOK! I would definitely recommend it. (Especially to mothers.)

*Just read it for the second time 2/10 for another book club. It's still awesome!
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,251 reviews234 followers
September 16, 2022
“Everyone … believes somebody’s dead right now because a midwife performed a bedroom cesarean on a living woman.”

For some readers, MIDWIVES will be characterized as a medical or a legal thriller. But it isn’t really. Like Jodi Picoult’s MY SISTER’S KEEPER, it’s more of a hypothetical examination of a specific question of medical ethics with a thriller style ending twist to give the entire novel some real pizzazz. To plant the ethical questions into the readers’ minds, as it were, and to have them walk away pondering the answers for a good deal of time after they close that last page.

Sibyl Danforth is a midwife trapped by the confluence of two perfect storms. The first real storm is weather. A severe winter ice storm leaves her and her patient mother in deep labor trapped and unable to retreat to a hospital. The second is a metaphorical perfect storm of medical conditions that kill the mother during the labour and leave the midwife with no alternative but to perform an dangerous, unsanctioned Caesarean section to save the unborn baby’s life. But a subsequent autopsy reveal that the mother was, in fact, still alive and that she had died as a result of hemorrhagic shock caused by the surgery.

MIDWIVES is not exciting or jammed with page-turning suspense in the traditional style of thrillers. It is, however, compelling, gripping, dramatic and provocative from first page to last.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Bonnie.
169 reviews288 followers
July 2, 2009
I’ve had Midwives, Chris Bohjalian’s fifth novel, on my to-read list for quite a while, but I resisted reading it until now because of some personal baggage: my only son was born, perfectly healthy, in a hospital; but the labour was prolonged, resulting in life-threatening complications that brought me back to the hospital in isolation for almost three weeks during which I was not even allowed to hold my own newborn child.

Midwives is a story about a pregnancy that goes wrong, but not in a hospital: in a home. The novel is mainly told through the eyes of Connie, the daughter of midwife Sibyl Danforth. Each chapter begins with an entry from Sibyl’s diary. Connie’s narration does require a degree of concentration from the reader. Bohjalian takes us back and forward in time, from Connie telling the story as an adult, going back to when she was fourteen. And because she was the point-of-view character, Connie had to overhear many, many conversations. Once I had the narrator, and the author’s narrative technique, firmly fixed in my mind, I was able to settle in to reading this compelling novel.

For years Sibyl enjoyed a thriving career as a “catcher” of babies. And then, one cold winter night, after a difficult and lengthy labour, Sibyl realizes she needs to get the mother, Charlotte to the hospital. But the phone lines are down, and Sibyl drives her car into a snow bank. She returns to continue to assist in the birth, and then Charlotte collapses. Believing Charlotte has had a stroke, Sibyl attempts CPR, and after some time, concludes that the mother has died – but that there may still be time to save the baby. She performs a caesarian section, and saves the baby, but did she kill Charlotte in the process? Sibyl’s inexperienced apprentice, Anne, and Charlotte’s husband, Asa, later contend that she did: that Charlotte was still alive before Sibyl performed the operation. The coroner comes to the same conclusion, and Sibyl is charged with involuntary manslaughter. The book is the story of the trial and the events leading up to it.

As I read this novel I was never bored; and as I approached the end it became, for me, more and more of a nail-biting page-turner. I found the trial and the complementary battle outside the courtroom – medical community against midwifery – very interesting reading. Throughout the story Bohjalian casts doubt even as he leads the reader – sometimes “astray” – to certain assumptions. For example, Charlotte hid her medical history from Sibyl. Did this contribute to her prolonged labour and resulting collapse? Then there’s our discovery, before the end of the book, that Connie is now, as an adult, a certified OBGYN. We must assume that this is because of her mother’s experience. Finally, we never really know what happened that night until the very end of the book. Clearly that was Bohjalian’s intention, and he pulled it off very well.

Read Midwives with an open mind, and you’ll form your own ideas about why and how Bohjalian decided to write this story. He certainly did his research, and he makes us think: the major issues surrounding midwifery and the dangers associated with any birth are presented without the author taking sides.

For myself, in the end, I feel I didn’t so much read Midwives, as ingest it. Looking back, I think that if I had had a certified midwife, along with a doctor, working with me during my pregnancy, things might well have turned out better. Interestingly, Chris Bohjalian himself has been quoted as saying that “in a heartbeat” he and his wife would be comfortable having a baby at home, or using a nurse-midwife at the hospital.

Profile Image for Megan.
47 reviews5 followers
December 19, 2009
Sorry, what was this book about? Because if the author stuck to what I believe to be the original idea, a courtroom drama-esque debate of ethics and assumptions surrounding homebirth and modern medicine, it would have kept my interest. These are certainly things that interest me. Well, there is that, but this book is also littered with totally irrelevant tangents, dead-end storylines, rambling emotions and love-life details of a 14 year old, and weird wavering between timelines.

It also drove me crazy how the author never explained how the main character, a hippy midwife with "no medical training" but this wise, experienced caregiver, trained or learned her craft. How did she become qualified to do what she did? He made it seem like she just loved wombs and babies so much it made her a natural midwife...it really discredited the character and drove me crazy. It was so central to the story, but never addressed. Boo.
Profile Image for Kristen.
339 reviews41 followers
January 4, 2008
So the Washington Post Book World says that this will keep readers up late until the last page is turned. I started the book this morning, and only had hopes that it'd be as good as the last few books I've read. Didn't think I'd do all 370 pages today. LOL

I guess depending on how you feel about midwives and home births, you could view this book as an injustice upon Sibyl, or an injustice against the woman who died. Personally, I feel that a woman has the choice as to whether she wants a home birth or a hospital birth. It's her body, and if she wants the baby at home, fine. But if there's a medical problem, then the hospital is the place to go. But I understand that things happen.

I'm getting worked up about this, and I know it's a work of fiction. But I know women have been prosecuted and tortured for being midwives. It's an Oprah Book Club book, of course it's going to bring up opinions. Don't a great deal of her choices do?

So yes. A thought-provoking book. Well-researched. And I was surprised to see it was written by a man. lol
Profile Image for Amy.
58 reviews3 followers
February 26, 2008
I would like to preface my comments with a recommendation that if you are pregnant or are planning to have children sometime soon this would NOT be a good book choice. Having said that, I thought this book was exceptional. I was definitely drawn to this book, having delivered both of my children with a nurse midwife. This story is told from the adult daughter's perspective regarding her mother's role ( a midwife) during a home delivery gone bad. As I noted in someone else's review, I had to stop a few times and remind myself that this was not a true story. The author very realistically portrays the struggle of the lay midwife vs the nurse midwife/physician. I thought it was quite thought provoking and I could not put it down for the last 1/4 of the book. It is not a light, fun read, but an incredible one nonetheless.
Profile Image for Marc.
213 reviews22 followers
June 13, 2020
This was a gripping read and I loved Connie, the 14-year old narrator of this story. A compelling story and great characters. I'm glad I had the chance to read this novel which was written in 1997. If I hadn't have seen mention of it in a review of another Chris Bohjalian novel I would probably never have chosen to read it! Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Britany.
991 reviews434 followers
May 20, 2017
Midwives goes into detail about the practice of midwifery, following Sibyl Danforth as she catches babies. Sibyl's 14 year daughter, Connie tells the story of a home birth gone terribly wrong. What really happened to Charlotte bedford? Did she die on her own, or was still alive when Sibyl tried to save the baby??

This book started out extremely strong for me. I didn't want to put it down and the content was really interesting to me. Each chapter started out with an excerpt from Sibyl's journals, and then the rest of the book was from Connies 14 yr old perspective. Connie is telling the story from present day, which is surprisingly easy to follow and the novel is fluid.

The reason that this is only garnering 3 stars is for the fact that I felt that the middle of the book seemed to drag on too long, and I personally felt like it made the ending less climatic.
Profile Image for Silvana.
24 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2007
This book is told by the prespective of a 30 year old woman who is recalling her life and turmoil at age 14. The cause for the turmoil...her mom, a self-appointed 70's-throwback-midwive who preforms a C-section on a patient in an extreme situation, to save a dying baby from his alreay dead mother. Why the drama? Well, maybe the birthing mother wasn't dead..so the court drama begins. Will her mothr be convicted of involuntary manslaughter or will the jury find her innocent?

All I can add was that it would ordinarilly have been a page turner for me, but I felt there was such a need to describe everything to the upteenth degree with this author's writing technique. I found myself skipping sentences just to move on.

I wouldn't have got to the end if it wasn't for Liz's recommendation to finish. She said that she had read it, didn't remember what it was all about, but that she remembered what she felt when she was done. She was right, when I finally got the the end, I understood what she meant.

Safe to say, don't read the last page!

Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
March 20, 2020
Another book loan from a bookclub member and an author that I cannot resist reading. Written in 1997, Chris Bohjalian takes readers to a wintry night in Vermont where a seasoned midwife, named Sibyl Danforth makes a decision to save a baby's life. But by the next evening, rumors will begin to fly that Sibyl is actually a killer. Told through the eyes of Sibyl 's daughter, Connie, the unfolding investigation and courtroom drama definitely kept me wondering as to who is telling the truth?

I was absolutely hooked by this one even when the book slowed down. Although I had a feeling what was ultimately going to be the conclusion of the story, I still felt the story was thrilling enough to keep me engaged. I thought it was interesting to have the story told through the eyes of Sibyl's daughter. Here Connie was this normal teenager and then her whole life is turned upside down and neighbors are taking sides and yet she doesn't want to be helpless. She wants to ensure readers that her mother was excellent at midwifery. She's any kind of teen that adores her parent. In between chapters, we are also given glimpses into Sibyl's midwife journals and this also allows a glimpse into Sibyl the midwife and not just Sibyl, Connie's mother.

A book that I wouldn't hesitate to re-read or recommend to others.

Goodreads 20/03/20
Profile Image for Kathryn.
356 reviews
January 1, 2013
Well, I finished my adult beverage I wanted to finish before writing this last review of 2012 of the last book I read in 2012. I also wanted to make sure I kissed my husband at midnight, so, I delayed this review.

I'm going to give Midwives 4.5 stars. I initially was going to give this 4 stars, but the end kind of "wowed" me, and it deserved a half star.

Initially, I didn't know much about midwifery until I read Midwives, and there really is a lot to learn about it. This read definitely gives you insight into the profession, and I thought it was very interesting.

The beginning was a little slow to me, but before I even got to the middle of the book, it became a lot more interesting and had me hooked until the end. I almost abandoned the book mainly because I became disinterested, but I read this with my friend Veronica, and she told me to keep at it because it gets better.

I really didn't know much about this story, or what happens, and I'm so glad. There were some things which really shocked me, as far as events go, and I think I developed a new appreciation for midwives. Honestly.

All things aside, Midwives is a great read. It was worth my .49 cent investment. I really enjoy Bohjalian's writing, too. It is clear, visual, and I felt like I could feel what the characters were feeling. There were a few times as the reader, I had some bad feelings for the outcome, a few situations in the book, and I love when an author can do that. I will definitely be checking out more of Bohjalian's works.

Also, sorry if this is review is a little awkward, I don't want to give the story away, because this is one story I think would be definitely disappointing to be spoiled on, and I really am starting to dislike reviews which give you the entire novel summarized as a review.

Great book!
620 reviews6 followers
June 10, 2008
I read this book when I was on business travel in Zimbabwe and it definitely kept me turning the pages. As someone who values very strongly the role of midwives in healthcare, this was a tough book to read. The midwife at the center of the story is faced with a very dangerous (and statistically incredibly unlikely) situation and the outcome makes her a pariah in the community. She becomes a scapegoat and a target of all sorts of anger, most of which is misdirected and misguided and often comes from people who weren't even affected by the situation.

It's a tragic novel, and one that I didn't feel a lot of satisfaction from reading. The story is well-told (from what I remember). But this is another book that is just too sad and depressing (aren't most Oprah books that way?), and there's enough sadness in the real world that I don't really need to subject myself to more through the books I read.
4 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2011
I felt like I really couldn't connect with the characters well. It didn't go into other characters head and how they felt. We only knew how Connie felt. I could not sympathize with Sybil ( the midwife) or her husband. I felt she was so selfish. She did what she wanted and didn't care how anyone else felt.
#1. She couldn't give up "catching" babies for the sake of her marriage when she and her husband fought over it.
#2. She knew her daughter was upset when she couldn't make it to dinner, but she always put her job first.
#3. She had something going on with the lawyer, that her husband was paying for, behind his back.
#4. She didn't want to take that sweet plea deal because she wouldn't give up being a midwife, only to end up giving it up anyways.
I don't have anything against home births or midwives, but she was reckless. Seriously, the prosecutor had a really good point, you knew the weather was going to be bad, and you didn't have the common sense to plan ahead? And another thing that made me angry was when another father testified about Sybil having his wife push for 10 hours! Really? TEN HOURS?!? PUSHING?!?

Maybe Sybil is this midwife that doesn't think things over. Maybe she really shouldn't be delivering babies at all. We only know the viewpoint of her 14 year old daughter, who of course is going to side with her dear mother.
Profile Image for Tyler.
21 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2011
my mom insisted i read this book for years. now it's on the oprah book club so i feel lame saying i read it, because i find oprah's book club to be lame and i find the 'oprah book club' logo on a books front cover detrimental. But it was an interesting book. I liked it; a quick read. It follow the court case of a midwife in vermont who delivers a baby via an emergency c-section in which the mother dies and then they discover that the mother wasn't actually dead before the c-section occured. it's an interesting premise. go ahead and read it, it takes about a day.
Profile Image for Raymond.
352 reviews256 followers
August 14, 2017
Read this book some years ago and I remember really enjoying it, especially the trial.
Profile Image for Nguyet Minh.
176 reviews108 followers
March 6, 2022
Quả là một cuốn tiểu thuyết, một đề tài hiếm hoi, độc đáo về một nghề mà giờ đây chỉ còn trong quá khứ. Đó chính là nghề bà mụ, một công việc đỡ đẻ tại nhà với biết bao câu chuyện vui buồn, suôn sẻ lẫn mất mát trong đó. Cả nhân loại cho đến khi có sự bùng nổ về bệnh viện với các tiến bộ của y khoa, chẳng ph���i đều đã được chào đón bởi đôi bàn tay các bà mụ hay sao? Dẫu biết trong quá trình sinh đẻ hàng nghìn năm ấy, tỉ lệ thành công và sai sót cũng chẳng mấy chênh lệch. Nhưng nếu nhìn cho thấu đáo, “bà mụ” không chỉ là nghề hay nghiệp, nó còn xuất phát từ tình thương yêu, sự đam mê với nhiệm vụ thiêng liêng của người phụ nữ - đó là sinh đẻ. Bà mụ dày dạn kinh nghiệm Sibyl Danforth không nằm ngoài tính nhân văn ấy, bà là người phụ nữ không ngừng nỗ lực hết sức trong từng ca đỡ đẻ của mình. Nhưng cho dù vậy, một sai sót, nói đúng hơn một sự cố tồi tệ trong một ca đỡ đẻ đã kéo tuột toàn bộ sự hoan hỉ đó xuống, thay vào đó là sự cắn rứt lương tâm và nỗi sợ hãi.

Bất kỳ ai chọn được sinh đẻ tại nhà với bà mụ hẳn đều có sự tự tin về khả năng vượt c���n của mình. Điều đó cũng cổ vũ tay nghề không có bằng cấp nào được công nhận của các bà. Ngược lại, bà mụ luôn phải cẩn thận đề phòng và chuẩn bị cả bác sĩ dự bị hay phương tiện chuyển sản phụ đến bệnh viện trong trường hợp xấu nhất. Thế nhưng, phải làm thế nào khi thời tiết khắc nghiệt khiến không thể di chuyển, mọi đường dây liên lạc bị cắt đứt? Đó chính là vận xui của sản phụ cũng như của bà mụ. Sibyl Danforth bị kẹt lại ngôi nhà hẻo lánh của mục sư Asa Bedford trong ca đỡ đẻ cho vợ ông giữa bang Vermont. Quá trình sinh đẻ kỳ diệu và khoảnh khắc “dâng trào tinh hoa” theo ý niệm của bà đã bị cơn mưa bão lạnh giá đêm đó cuốn phăng đi. Bà không có đủ thì giờ để kịp nhận thức, cái thấy, cảm nhận và trực giác đã điều khiển bà, bà buộc phải hành động nhanh nhất có thể để cứu đứa bé trong lằn ranh mong manh sinh tử của người mẹ. Lúc đó, ở vị trí đó, bà không sai nhưng cái chết của người mẹ lại trở thành vấn đề gây tranh cãi cho mọi người và hoang mang cho chính bà.

Luật pháp đã không quay lưng, đã can thiệp một cách triệt để vào vụ việc này. H�� thống pháp luật chịu ảnh hưởng trực tiếp từ những người dẫn dắt có đầu óc đầy định kiến. Họ muốn khẳng định cái chính kiến họ cho là đúng, chưa cần mua chuộc nhân chứng, họ đã có nửa sự thành công khi mà còn khá nhiều người hèn nhát, sợ trách nhiệm và quá muốn thể hiện năng lực có hạn của mình. Việc so sánh giữa một bác sĩ sản phụ khoa và một bà mụ vì thế mà bị đẩy lên cao trào. Những kỳ vọng và phép màu của sự sinh đẻ bị đưa lên bàn cân. Dù thế nào cũng có thể thấy, nghề bà mụ cũng có cho nó một triết lý sống riêng, những trải nghiệm và nền tảng được xây dựng qua nhiều năm với vô số ngày và đêm để đem sự sống đến với cuộc đời này.

Vị luật sư lão luyện Stephen Hastings quả là một người đàn ông cương trực, sắc sảo, quyết liệt mà vô cùng ấm áp. Sự đồng hành không mệt mỏi, bảo vệ đến cùng cho thanh danh của Sibyl Danforth nói riêng, của nghề bà mụ nói chung là một bước ngoặt lớn lao, một cú hích cho sự nghiệp của ông. Những hướng dẫn tận tình, truy luận sắc bén, an ủi mực thước đã đem đến cho gia đình Sibyl Danforth một niềm hy vọng và sự hoà thuận lẫn cảm thông không nhỏ. Quá trình trưởng thành từ cô bé đến thiếu nữ với bao nổi loạn ngầm Connie luôn có sự đồng hành của mẹ nên cô thấu hiểu mẹ hết mực. Theo dõi và lo lắng cho từng biến chuyển của vụ án, Connie đã có một quyết định vô cùng đúng đắn vào phút cuối, quyết định ấy đã thay đổi tất cả, là minh chứng cho tình mẫu tử tuyệt diệu và là định hướng cho công việc trở thành bác sĩ sản phụ khoa sau này của cô.

Một vụ án đầy kịch tính và vô cùng nhân văn đã kết thúc có hậu. Nghề bà mụ là một nghề nghiệp đáng trân quý dẫu cho nó đã dần vắng bóng và không được thừa nhận nhiều hơn. Quyển sách đưa ta đến những khoảnh khắc vượt cạn của những phụ nữ sắp làm mẹ một cách chi tiết và sống động đến nỗi ta ngỡ như mình đang gồng, đang rặn cùng họ. Những ca đẻ tại nhà đôi khi cô đơn, đôi khi có sự quây quần của đại gia đình. Đọc để hiểu rằng việc sinh đẻ là một cuộc chiến mệt nhoài, cửa sinh là cửa tử. Nhưng cũng là món quà quý giá khi vượt thoát và “dâng trào tinh hoa”, đó là khoảnh khắc một sự sống mới vươn ra thế giới, là niềm hạnh phúc không thể đong đếm cho người mẹ và cho cả bà mụ. “Đẻ tại nhà là một trải nghiệm cực kỳ mạnh mẽ và tăng cường sức lực, nó cho những người phụ nữ yếu đuối nguồn năng lượng, sự tự tin và sức mạnh. Họ biết cơ thể mình có thể làm được gì, và nó cho họ sự động viên.”

Đọc Chris Bohjalian mà cứ ngỡ như đọc một nữ nhà văn. Hiểu tường tận về việc sinh đẻ lẫn nghề đỡ đẻ như vậy, ông hẳn là người biết trân trọng và yêu thương phụ nữ. Văn viết gãy gọn, miêu tả tâm lý rất sâu. Dù đôi chỗ diễn giải hơi dài và lập lại nhưng tổng thể là một tác phẩm nhân văn, chỉn chu và đầy cảm xúc.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
392 reviews22 followers
August 13, 2007
I didn't read this book because it was an Oprah read...I don't think I even knew this was one until today. I found it at a little independent bookstore in Monterey years ago. This was one of those books I couldn't put down but... because of the intense emotional content of the book I ended up stepping away from the book a couple of times. I was amazed by the authors ability to write about such an emotional subject(home childbirth gone wrong)and had to remind myself numerous times that it was written by a man, he really seemed to be able to capture the labor and childbirth from a woman's point of view. For me it reminded me that decisions we make in life really do count on so many levels. A REALLY good read.
Profile Image for Chris Gager.
1,977 reviews77 followers
August 8, 2019
Next up for book club, although we're skipping August. I have heard of this author, but other than that I have no clue. I picked up four of his books at our recent library book sale. Starting tonight ...

Started this last night. So far it's reminding me of Jodi Picoult only with a better writer. The story is pretty matter-of-fact so far. The author's style, as it adopts the voice of a 14-year old girl, seems a bit pedestrian, but I suspect the story is all in this one. Tom Perrotta might be an apt comparison. Ones who do it(the "realism" thing) a bit better? Richard Russo, Richard Ford etc. Worse: Wally Lamb.

So, just as I was beginning to grumble about getting bored with the narrative voice(how old IS that voice anyway?), all hell breaks loose as the "thing/event" about which this book revolves takes place. Bad follows worse follows horrible and there you go. For myself, I was sort of not wanting to read the whole thing(a tribute to the author's skill) and needing to buck up and get on with it. It's over now at least and the legal(and more) aftermath will take up the rest of the book. Notes ...

- I'm back in Vermont after "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," which is unofficially set there.

- Worcester, Massachusetts(my birthplace) is a city, not a town.

- The author writes of old clapboards that have had nails "slammed through them" ... I don't think so. Trying too hard ...

- Sybil is a vaguely troubling figure. Up until the bleep hits the fan she's not much in the story, and that's one of the points of the narrator's portrayal of her. VERY "careerist/dedicated" and something of an uber-Earth mother. Still kind of a hippie and a bit tiresome. Both husband and daughter have reason for complaint vis-a-vis her absent parenting and wifing(?) ... wifery(?) ... partnering(?). Her behavior during the "thing" is open to question, but then, what then hell would YOU have done, dear reader? One thing I would have done(presumably) was pay more attention to the weather(forecast). A labor can go on for hours. At the first whiff of bad weather Sybil and mother should have been out of there and off to the hospital. Not sure if that point will be visited again.

- How does smug Sybil know that she'd never birthed a baby banker?

- "air force" should be "Air Force."(twice now)

Last night's reading was set in the post-disaster, pre-trial stage of things. There's some more boring life-of-a-teenager stuff as well. The structure of the book is curious, as the big intense disaster is fading into the mists of time. What will happen now is all the contention about WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. So far that's only sort-of interesting and so my rating has dipped back down to 3* territory.

- When I was working at Boulder Memorial Hospital in Boulder we had a patient in the Physical Therapy Rehab unit who was the wife of an ex-football player from C.U. She was in some sort of coma following a disastrous labor-and-delivery(at another hospital). I don't know if she ever came out of it.

- Don't we all know to NOT talk to cops w/o a lawyer present?????

- Please 86 the teen romance stuff - PLEASE!

- OK, it's time to get into the courtroom! Quit dawdling ...

And so to an issue that't been on my mind relative to this book and others like it in that huge category of "contemporary" serious but popular writing. Jodi Picoult and Wally Lamb come to mind. Kent Haruf would be another. I can only speak to writers I've read. John Green's another one. Is this stuff to be considered legitimate serious literature? If Tom Perrotta is a yes then why would Chris Bohjalian be a no? To me this book is NOT serious literature(though not nearly as bad as the pretentious "The Goldfinch"). Hmmm ...

Finally, the trial begins - should be interesting.

- Sybil gives the la-la-la version of what the 60's were about. Like the mother in "My Sister's Keeper," she is borderline insufferable. One of those "bogus charisma" people.

- "The Notebooks of Sybil Danforth" - supposed to be of some compelling(yes, as it turns out) interest???? BTW, there once was a Hollywood actress named Sybil Danning,

- Too much "inner Connie" is filling up the literary spaces here. Not interesting ...

Finished up last night with that "Kobayashi Maru" thing that's really the highlight of the book - on the last two pages. VERY thought-and-emotion-provoking indeed. Was it enough to push the rating of the book back to 4*? I guess not quite, but it's close. The narrator's reasons for her career choice become clearer, and, if anything, we gain more sympathy for Sybil. She screwed up with the weather-thing and had to pay a bitter price(not as much as Charlotte, however).

- The weather thing DID come back strong into the legal proceedings and then got kind of dropped. Should Sybil have been found guilty(and I'm not saying either way - no spoilers from ME) for that lapse in judgement alone? You could make a case, I suppose.

- Joni Mitchell on a dance tape????

- The notebook thing = kind of contrived I think. But ... this IS a novel, not reality. Mightn't the judge have seen that it's been tampered with?

- A consistent problem for the book is the sort-of droning/flat affect of the narration. If you choose that method to present a story it does have it's limitations if the narrator is lacking in charisma. NOT a problem for "Lolita" or "True Grit," for instance. Anyway ...

- 3.5* rounds down to 3*.
Profile Image for Lori.
217 reviews
October 6, 2021
A very powerful story that raises important moral and ethical issues. It's amazing to me that it was written by a man that was able to articulate the story through the eyes of a 14 year old girl. Great book club read!
Profile Image for Lana Del Slay.
202 reviews18 followers
June 20, 2013
Right. Midwives. Which I had been looking forward to since it came out and I spotted it on a grocery store bookshelf (yes, really).


Bohjalian wrote four books before this one, but you wouldn't know it from the awkward prose. His dialogue isn't bad. His characters are... more or less realistic (I buy everyone except the narrator). So much of the writing meanders into tangential places that have little, if any, bearing on the story as it stands.

Either we needed less of this book or different pieces of it.

If we needed less of this book, maybe . The narrator does and doesn't have the full picture somehow, and I'm confused as to how a first-person omniscient narration style even works. Maybe her mother filled in the blanks for her. I don't know. But it doesn't make sense.

If we needed different pieces, we could have come in tighter on the Main Event and all that followed. Yes, tighter. No hints at what happened after. Keep what came before. We can't have it from perspective because then the mystery's gone, but we could've had it from someone else who was there.

The novel's as messy as the ethics involved.

Full disclosure: in the years since I put this book on my TBR list, I have learned much more about home birth and the various kinds of midwives practicing in the United States. I am not a lay midwife kind of person any longer. If helping women to have babies is your passion, go be a nurse-midwife. Go be one of the book's five percent who practice out of homes, malpractice insurance be damned; if you have a good doctor at your back, and you're conservative in your transfer approach (i.e. transfer at the first sign of maternal or fetal distress), you're not betraying the idea that the body knows what it's doing. Generally the body does; how else would babies have been born for thousands of years? It's when something goes wrong that you need a doctor, who .

I would absolutely have .

Overall a disappointment. Not as total as some books, but pretty thoroughly so.
Profile Image for Joann.
65 reviews2 followers
July 23, 2008
As a home-birther I was very intrigued by the topic of this book. I know the risks that accompany both home and hospital births and, after much study and prayer my husband and I know that home births are the way to go. I have gotten many different reactions from the "fish eye" look to anger from people who find out our girls were delivered naturally, at home, by a midwife.

I loved the author's portrayal of midwives; his description of their mannerisms, their education, and their outlook was right on with my fabulous midwife. Like the heroin my midwife gives the biggest, tightest hugs, is truly concerned about me and my children, and is very well educated and engages in a constant state of learning.

As I got more into the book I realized it was about much more than home vs. hospital birthing. It carried the same moral dillemma as "TO Kill a Mockingbird" (one of my personal favorites). When I was done I enjoyed comparing the situations from "Midwives" and "Mockingbird". I admit that, while I hold honesty as one of the most important of virtues, the actions of the young characters in these stories are justified and I would hope that I would have the courage to do what they did.

Profile Image for Kimberly.
399 reviews48 followers
February 6, 2017
An inside account of one midwife's moments and ordeals in dealing with courts and controversy surrounding a decision she made with a patient. Each chapter begins with the midwife's diary entry, but then is told from her daughters point of view.
When one of the midwife's patients dies due to an emergency C-section(in order to save the babies life) all heck breaks loose. Was the mother of the baby dead before she did the C-section or was she instead alive?
I felt really sorry for this midwife but could see mistakes that she made. Innocent mistakes but ones which would tear her and her family apart. This was a tough book at times, emotionally, but was very well written and very interesting.
Profile Image for Sharon Huether.
1,502 reviews10 followers
January 18, 2016
A very unexpected story. Sibyl the midwive and her patient. Sibyl is accused of murder, but she saved a life . The majority of the story took place in the court room, with all the drama. Sibyl's life changes forever. The story was very well written .
Profile Image for Marilyn.
477 reviews
December 24, 2018
*Spoiler alert*

The plot is good: a midwife who does home delivery gets stuck in a blizzard and is forced to deliver a baby via c-section after the mother dies trying to give birth. She is then accused of manslaughter.

So this is both a gripping medical thriller and a courtroom drama. Which are fine plot devices, but I was just plain overwhelmed by the sadness of the story and its people. In the course of telling the story, it seemed like the mother died over and over again, with the same agonizing pain for the rest of the characters. There is one twist, but it actually makes the story more harrowing.

Bohjalian is a wonderful writer. His characters, plot and dialogue are all beautifully done (as is his description of northern Vermont). But this is the second of his books that I've read that left me unsatisfied with the ending.

Profile Image for Annie.
328 reviews52 followers
May 29, 2019
I so expected to like this more. The writing was good, but I felt that it kind of plodded along for me between the death of the mother giving birth and the trial of the midwife. Then I expected that the trial would be more exciting and it wasn't what I expected. I certainly can understand why others enjoyed it. It just wasn't a favorite for me.
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