Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Call The Midwife: Farewell to the East End

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 314
Rating: PG-13 (a few of the stories are rather mature in nature)

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End is the last book in Worth's memoir trilogy, which the Times Literary Supplement described as "powerful stories with sweet charm and controlled outrage" in the face of dire circumstances.
Here, at last, is the full story of Chummy's delightful courtship and wedding. We also meet Megan'mave, identical twins who share a browbeaten husband, and return to Sister Monica Joan, who is in top eccentric form. As in Worth's first two books, Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times and Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse, the vividly portrayed denizens of a postwar East End contend with the trials of extreme poverty—unsanitary conditions, hunger, and disease—and find surprising ways to thrive in their tightly knit community.

My Thoughts:  This was probably my least favorite of the three books, although I still found it very interesting. It was neat to hear what happened to each of the people the author worked with (Trixie, Chummy, Cynthia, and the nuns) and in case you care, almost none of them do what the show says they do, but we expect television to take some liberties with the storyline. This book was my least favorite because it seemed to be just made up of stories that didn't fit into the first two books, so it's kind of sporadic. But still interesting. This book includes the stories of Meg and Mave, twins who are married to the same man and who insist on following extremely old books about pregnancy and birth; the story of the woman who after finding out she is pregnant yet again with a child they can't afford gets a backstreet abortion and almost dies, the woman who naturally births triplets, The Master's Arms (old guy who is sick and has lost his entire family except one daughter, who comes to nurse him), and the story of the ship's woman who ends up pregnant (this one and the abortion story are particularly disturbing).

I have to say though, that in the end I highly recommend all three of these books. I wish there were more!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 293
Rating: PG
The sequel to Jennifer Worth's New York Times bestselling memoir and the basis for the PBS series Call the Midwife
When twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Worth, from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, went to work as a midwife in the direst section of postwar London, she not only delivered hundreds of babies and touched many lives, she also became the neighborhood's most vivid chronicler. Woven into the ongoing tales of her life in the East End are the true stories of the people Worth met who grew up in the dreaded workhouse, a Dickensian institution that limped on into the middle of the twentieth century.
Orphaned brother and sister Peggy and Frank lived in the workhouse until Frank got free and returned to rescue his sister. Bubbly Jane's spirit was broken by the cruelty of the workhouse master until she found kindness and romance years later at Nonnatus House. Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran, lost his family in the two world wars and died in the workhouse.
Though these are stories of unimaginable hardship, what shines through each is the resilience of the human spirit and the strength, courage, and humor of people determined to build a future for themselves against the odds. This is an enduring work of literary nonfiction, at once a warmhearted coming-of-age story and a startling look at people's lives in the poorest section of postwar London.
My Thoughts: This book was considerably more depressing than the first one, and much less about midwifery. In fact, I don't think there was much mention of birth at all in this book. It was much more concerned with the history of the poor in London, which was horrible by the way! Workhouses were the governments form of "caring" for the destitue, but in reality it was worse than death for many. Some people actually committed suicide to avoid the workhouse. Widows who had no other choice but to enter the workhouse with their entire family were immediately separated from their children, and they often never saw them again. The discipline was harsh and unmerciful...young children were severely beaten for the smallest infractions. I couldn't believe such a thing even existed!

The book is split into three main topics - the workhouse, the scandal of one of the nuns being put on trial for shoplifting, and then the story of an old man named Mr. Collett, who served in the army, barely survived, and then lost his entire family in World War II. I thought each of the stories was just fascinating, and I particularly was impressed with Mr. Collett, who is unfailingly grateful for what he has. He lives in deep poverty, but talks about how it is such a luxury that he has a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat. He has hope that he will see his wife and children again soon He's truly an inspiring man and his story is touching.

Worth makes the point in this book that we rarely ever hear the stories of the desperately poor from this time period,  and they are so humbling. I am overwhelmingly grateful that such issues are no longer a part of our daily lives. I sped through this book in just a few days, I found it so fascinating and it just opened my eyes to how much people have suffered throughout history, even in times of peace.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Call The Midwife

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 319
Rating: PG-13 (There are a few chapters about a prostitute who ended up pregnant, and some of the descriptions of the prostitute life are quite graphic.)

Summary: In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London's East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English, to the prostitutes of the city's seedier side.

My Thoughts: I've been totally addicted to the TV show on Netflix, and knowing it's based on a memoir, I decided to check it out. Guess what? This is just the first of THREE books! Which is awesome because when I finished it I was disappointed that it ended so soon! I found this book to be completely fascinating, especially because these midwives were pioneers in the work of taking care of pregnant women. It's amazing what they were able to do.

Not all the stories are about babies and pregnant women and it's really interesting to read about some of the history of the area. I was particularly struck by the descriptions of the workhouses, which is where the desperately poor used to turn when they had no other choice. The workhouses were honestly not much better than Hitler's concentration camps. Families were separated and children usually died. Seriously so depressing.

If you've been watching the show, you'll recognize the majority of the stories, although some of them don't end quite as happily, which is a bummer. Reading it makes one grateful for all the advances in medicine and laws that we have today that make things even better for mothers.

Highly recommend this one, especially if you're already watching the show!