Dora Rare, the only girl child born in multiple generations of her family is encouraged by her mother to establish a bond with Miss Babineau, an odd isolated midwife, whose wisdom on health matters is much sought after by the local women in their small Nova Scotia community. Gripping and intimate encounters with her neighbours as birthing mothers and as women seeking control over their fertility lead Dora to accept a role as Marie’s successor. When arrogant, young Dr Gilbert Thomas comes to town with his strong ideas about science and birth, he is appalled at the practices of the local women; he also resents the competition. Dora embarks on a difficult marriage herself and seeks temporary refuge in the United States where she witnesses a new kind of independence.


Beautifuly written as a "literary scrapbook” in Dora’s voice of narrative, letters, clippings and diary entries of a century ago, this impressive debut novel recreates private lives and struggles of women at the beginning of the twentieth century—in two dramatically different seaside places, one isolated, one urban. Its triumph is atmosphere rather than plot, created by detail, humour, and tenderness. Historical events of World War I, the Halifax explosion and the Spanish Influenza are woven into the story about a struggle between tradition and modernity.

Born in the USA but now living in Canada, the author draws from her own experiences as a former single mother, as a newcomer, and as the occupant of a former birth house on the Bay of Fundy.


This novel won 3 awards from the Canadian Booksellers Association.


Alfred A. Knopf

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