The Birth House by Ami McKayI absolutely fell in love with The Birth House and couldn’t put the book down. I pretty much read it in just two sittings. Dora is a fantastic character with honest opinions, flaws, and wisdom beyond her years.

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.

From the publisher, Vintage Canada

The part that I find most interested about The Birth House, is the story about how it came to be. Ami McKay moved to Scots Bay in Nova Scotia and found out that their home was lived in by a former midwife, Rebecca Steele. Ami began researching midwifery and Scots Bay, and all about living in a rather isolated community in the WWI era.

What began as non-fiction had taken shape into a novel. Ami McKay ended up meeting Rebecca Steele’s adult daughter, she said in an interview. “I had visited the adult daughter of the midwife who had actually lived in my house, and through our conversations, her voice stayed in my head for quite a while. It became Dora’s voice.”

It was interesting to read the book having modern medicine so accessible. I understand Dr. Gilbert Thomas’s desire to have a sterile environment for medical procedures, but I identified more with the sense of community in the town’s midwife, Miss B. I also identified with Dora — I loved that she read books and spoke her mind.

“The conversation about women’s choices is not over, and it’s not just about abortion. It’s about contraception, how women give birth, breastfeeding.” said author Ami McKay in an interview with Orato.

Some plot points were a bit predictable — that she would fall for Archer — although I thought it was going to be more of a love story and she would end up marrying Hart. I actually didn’t mind that the “love story” of the book was on the back burner compared to the rest of Dora’s story.

I really liked the addition of real-world events such as the Halifax Explosion and the Boston Molasses Flood. These, as well as newspaper clippings, excerpts from The Willow Book, and other bits and bobs helped break up the narrative a little yet carried the plot along without being a ‘telling’.

And, last but not least, I love love love the Occasional Knitters Society. Fantastic! And not just because I’m a knitter myself. I love that they found a way to not conform or compromise their values, yet appease the well-to-do ladies of Scots Bay.

Well written, lovely story, and highly recommended. Definitely passing this one onto my mom and godmother. The Birth House is going to be a tough contender for Canada Reads 2011!