Sylvia Brownrigg's "The Delivery Room" is set in London in 1998 and 1999, and focuses on Peter Braverman and his Serbian-born wife, Mira. Peter is a teacher and scholar who specializes in Russian literature, while Mira practices psychotherapy in their Camden Town flat. Peter calls Mira's office "the delivery room," and it is an apt description. In some ways, Mira's calm and soothing presence, along with her astute questioning, leads her patients to rediscover an inner strength that they thought was gone forever. At her best, Mira helps her clients to be psychologically reborn, with a renewed optimism that enables them to face their problems. Since some of Mira's patients are obsessed with the subject of children--having them, relating to them, and losing them--"the delivery room," as a title, has an added dimension.
Brownrigg skillfully explores the troubles and traumas that can shake us to the core. Among them are infidelity, infertility, terminal illness, family dysfunction, war, prejudice, and loneliness. While Mira tries to connect with her clients (including the "Mourning Madonna" who is devastated after tragically losing her baby, "the Bigot," a "kettle or rage " who is bitter, sarcastic, and aggressive, and "the Aristocrat" a wealthy woman with a posh accent and a sense of entitlement), she is also dealing with serious personal problems. Mira may be in London, but her heart and mind are also in what is left of Yugoslavia, where her family struggles to survive the Balkan wars that have brought death and destruction to a formerly beautiful land. Mira is fortunate to have a husband she adores who is also very much in love with her after more than twenty years of marriage. Unfortunately, she is destined to encounter fierce personal challenges that will test her own emotional resilience.
This is an intimate and deliberately paced book, with keen passages of dark humor, pitch-perfect dialogue, and lovely and precise descriptive writing. Brownrigg takes the time to compassionately investigate each character's inner life. She demonstrates that, although other people's problems may seem trivial or remote to us, to be truly human means to understand the universality of loss, pain, and sorrow. Mira has the gift of relating to those who feel broken. It is her wish to help them become whole, or at least to look to the future with something resembling hope. She wants the same thing for herself, and since her work enmeshes her in each client's "web of distress," she regularly forces herself to set aside her own concerns in order to focus on those who have come seeking wisdom and solace. "The Delivery Room" is an insightful and touching novel in which Sylvia Brownrigg sheds light on our hidden selves, enabling us to better understand the threads that bind us together and the obstacles that keep us apart.