Book review: Ridge Writers on Books

“Call the Midwife”

Book review: Ridge Writers on BooksMy love of the remarkable “Call the Midwife” stories started a couple of years ago when I began watching the BBC series of the same name.

Whether or not you’ve seen the series, you’ll find this book (340 pages, paperback, Penguin Books, 2012, $16.00) a compelling read as you travel back to the war-devastated Britain of the early 1950s to meet the author, Jennifer Worth (Jenny Lee in the series), her co-workers and the nuns of Nonatus House in London’s East End.

From the aging yet still crafty Sister Monica Joan to the bumbling, bighearted Chummy to the saintly Sister Julienne to Sister Evangeline, whose compassion for her patients is informed by a background very similar to theirs, to the narrator herself, the denizens of Nonatus House dedicate themselves to the critical task of serving pregnant women and their families.

At times the patients are difficult to serve — from the fishwife who reeks from her wares to victims of the workhouse and the miserable streets to the young woman who has been raised to bed an entire Scandinavian ship, including her own father

Somehow love and compassion shine through in each story, despite the squalid surroundings and the seeming hopelessness of many of the lives on the street. As the narrator serves these patients, she achieves a new understanding that enriches her own life.

To help the reader understand the medical terms, Worth includes a glossary. Even more useful is an appendix that describes the pleasures and difficulties of the Cockney language. While neither addition to the book is essential to comprehension, they’re both welcome references.

The book’s subtitle is “A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times,” and this well-written memoir beautifully illustrates all three of those descriptors. The book will move you to tears, laughter and a wish to learn more.

And you can learn more by purchasing the two other books in the series, “Shadows of the Workhouse” and “Farewell to the East End.” All three books continue to sell briskly as fans of the BBC series yearn to stay in touch with their heroines.

Number me among the fans of “Call the Midwife” who are avidly awaiting the series’ fourth season, which begins in 2015.

Story First Published: 2014-04-02