Hummingbird House

Henley, Patricia

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Jun-01-2000
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


North American midwife, Kate Banner, has been living and working in Nicaragua for 14 years and after losing a patient following a difficult birth (the terrified young woman gives birth in the bottom of a swamped wooden boat), Kate decides to return home. She first stops in Guatemala to see old friends and instead meets (and eventually falls in love with) a priest from New Orleans and his household, including a mute street child, Marta, and a Mayan woman who becomes a political activist in search of her husband.

Staying longer in Guatemala than she had planned, Kate's life becomes deeply intertwined with theirs. She ends up making a home with a wide assortment of people in "Hummingbird House," a place where mothers and children come for medical help ["children with emphysema who since birth have breathed in woodsmoke from the indoor cooking fires. . . . We deliver babies. Los milagros. We scold the mothers about too much sugar, too much soda pop. . . . We see with quite clear eyes the war beneath the wars. If you pass this story along, make sure you get it straight. . . Do not walk away in sorrow. Do not be consoled" (326).]


This novel does a good job of evoking the health issues in Central America during and post-civil war. In addition, the characters' motives for living and working under such conditions are complexly rendered. Henley's novel argues over and over that the personal relationships--and the love that springs forth as a result of them--are the only way to sustain political and social engagement, an important and useful way of thinking about medical practice in the U.S., particularly in underserved and overly exploited areas. Even though the murder at novel's end is implausibly committed by guerrillas, the novel aptly demonstrates the source, the joy, and the cost of such engagement.


MacMurray & Beck

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