9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is an immersive and heart tugging tale which despite its title is as equally
involved with midwife Violet Dimond as with her adoptive child.
A middle aged widow Violet delivers babies as well as knitting and baking pies -
this Cornwall before World War I and not many can afford to pay for the doctor.
One day Violet is summoned by her twin sister Bea to the orphanage where the latter
works. Hovering on the edge of death is a baby which is almost identical in features
to Violet's own dead child - except for one crucial difference - this baby is 'negro'.
Overcoming her inital antipathy and braving censure and cold stares from her own
small community Violet embraces Grace as her own.
Growing up is for Grace a very painful process as she is very obviously different -
and Violet too is challenged in the process of raising Grace.
Patricia Ferguson - herself a former nurse handles her material for this novel with
There is a flurry of developments in the latter part of the story and I found it
hard to put down. A sympathetic and psychologically acute novel - brilliant.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Opening with Joe Gilder in the Great War, in a ditch in no-man's land, thrown there by an explosion when he was sent to get the rum ration. Most likely it was the rum that saved his life. From there he is sent to a hospital where his terrible wounds are treated, and it's here that he meets the beautiful girl with the dark skin.
The novel is to end in tragedy, but there is a long and instructive story on the way - the story of the life of the little girl adopted by Violet Dimond from the orphanage - a sad little child with dark skin, but somehow reminding Violet of her own child, Ruth, who has died. From that point on we mostly experience events from the point of view of Grace, the child who is aware that she is different and sees herself as a freak of nature, despite Violet's kindness and that of her Aunt Bea, Violet's twin. How can Grace view herself as normal when everyone around her is white?
Grace is brave and clever and though she meets with many moments of bullying and a profound lack of understanding, she is implacable, intelligent, unafraid, through all the tests and faults that life is going to throw at her. It's true that Britain at that time was desperately ignorant of racial differences. Grace goes to the fair one day, and she and her friend pay a penny to look at a so-called giant. Grace fixates on this moment, thinking - you too - as she gazes on the so-called freak. It's the experience that starts her writing, trying to understand why she and the giant young man are somehow the same. There is something in their lives that neither of them can change. This is a deeply thoughtful, lucid and beautifully written book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Midwife's Daughter by Patricia Ferguson for me was a book which brought me into the lives of Violet and Grace Dimond. Grace came into the life of Violet Dimond through her identical twin sister Beatrice known to everyone as Bea. While Violet helped bring children into the world, Bea looked after those children that no-one wanted. So when Bea introduces Violet to an ill child she knew once Violet seen the child that the child would have a chance in life. But the one thing that Violet seen past was that the child was coloured but yet very beautiful also she resembled Violet's child who sadly passed away. Violet brings the baby home and calls her Grace and from that day Grace sees Violet as her Ma. But of course the locals do not see the innocent child which Violet sees through her eyes they only see her colour which they look down on and compare her continually to their own superior 'white' children.
This is not only a book based on racism but one which shows the love of a child which can change a lonely woman's life but also it shows how people are judged for simple things which cannot be changed no matter how much you pray for your life to change.
I loved the character of Grace though as an innocent child who was judged and condemned by all who knew her because she stood out from them with her coloured skin but her love of life and of her Ma held firm and shone through all the prejudices which surrounded her it did not stop Grace praying to God to let her waken up white just like her darling Ma. As we follow the lives of Grace and Violet, with Bea making regular shows throughout the book they have their own trials and judgements to get through with the interfering villagers condemning every move they make. As the war starts Grace grows up beautiful which bring her attention which at times was not wanted but yet her skin colour still stands out further than her beauty.
The character of Violet was for me very interesting as Violet was one of the old time untrained `Midwife' who was called on throughout the district at all times of the day or night to deliver the babies of the women of Silkhampton and the surrounding district. Violet knew as much or maybe more than any trained midwife but when the medical world progressed she found herself unemployed and told that she would risk prosecution if she delivered another new born child. Her love for Grace as her adopted daughter kept her going through the difficulties she faces on a daily business plus the very delicate relationship she had with her twin sister Beatrice. As we are told of their relationship we learn about their difficult child hood and the jealousies which started in infancy and continue into adulthood but yet their love for each other still is strong as they support each other in times of need.
There is one character that will change Grace's life forever and that is Joe Gilder who the book opens up with but yet still the judgements of those around her still hold strong and this is the main stay of the book which the author shows how racism and bullies holds firm, as they judge Grace for her colour rather than the wonderful girl she is. Joe sees past the colour of Grace's skin and gives her the acceptances which so far have only been shown through her mother and her Aunt Bea who holds her own secrets which add depth to this very interesting well written book. The author has filled the book with so many different characters whose personalities breathe so many dimensions you cannot help but connect with their lives.
This is a wonderful book which I would recommend to all lovers of historical fiction, it will take you into Cornwall and the writing is so vivid I can hear the wonderful accents throughout the characters story even through the different classes the author has written a book which is full of historical facts which shows class and creed of the times detailed within the book.
The Midwife's Daughter by Patricia Ferguson is a book which I highly recommend to all readers of historical fiction but also one which holds a lot of lessons for us all.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Violet Dimond, aka `The Holy Terror', is a redoubtable `handywoman' (unqualified midwife and layer-out of the dead) who has delivered several generations of children in the Cornish town of Silkhampton. However, her livelihood is threatened by new advances in medicine and laws which mean that unqualified women such as Violet may no longer legally practice.
Violet still mourns the loss of her beloved daughter Ruth many years earlier, so when she encounters a neglected young black girl in the children's home where her twin sister Bea works, she immediately decides to take her home, the Matron being only too willing to let Violet take such a "deeply unpromising" child off her hands. So begins Violet's new lease of life.
For most of her life the child, Grace, is not overly concerned about the reaction she provokes, taking the stares and finger pointing in her stride and blossoming into a confident and popular young woman. However, following a brutal attack by someone she considered to be a friend, she begins to question her identity and whether the attack would have happened if she was white, and it leaves her with a feeling that she has "no people for me to go to, no country where I will fit in".
The story is set in the early years of the 20th century and leads up to and beyond the First World War which has devastating consequences for the close-knit rural community but also leads to greater acceptance and new beginnings for Grace.
I loved this charming book with its wealth of believable and memorable characters. The locations are beautifully observed; from the cramped bedrooms in rundown terraces where Violet delivers `her' children, to the quaint little knitting and yarn shop where Grace begins her first job, the pages are brimming with atmosphere and character. Patricia Ferguson has worked as a midwife herself (albeit much later than Violet!) and more recently has written a number of Orange-shortlisted novels. On the basis of this one I intend to check them out very soon.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2014
I saved this book to read and enjoy when I had time. I am disappointed. I find the authors style difficult and quite clumsy. I have also found many other people agreeing with this, on other review sites. It doesn't hold my attention. Very, very abrupt end to the book. This will be going straight to the charity shop.
I don't know what made me buy The Midwife's Daughter (or rather download it onto my Kindle). It could have been a review or it may have been recommended by a friend. I know I completely missed out on the Radio 4 broadcasts earlier this year, so it wasn't that. Anyway, I did and I am glad.
The title is somewhat deceptive because although for much of the time Grace, a mixed-race girl adopted by the local midwife, is central to the narrative. How she comes to terms with the difference between her and the local Cornish community, her sense of singularity and therefore, (in her mind) her inferiority. As she develops she learns about difference and what it is to be seen as a 'type' rather than an individual.
However, there is far more to The Midwife's Daughter than this. The story is set just before and during the First World War when the world changes rapidly. One character refers to those who think in a pre-war way and those who think post-war. Another big change is that of the community midwife and her essential role in the community who finds her livelihood and a way of life taken away by the need for 'trained' nurses and eventually the intervention of the authoritarian male doctor. Add to that, the story of identical twins, Violet and Bea and the struggle to be different from each other although they use their mirror-likeness for their own purposes. And Joe Gilder, a wounded soldier from Yorkshire who opens the novel, who finds himself through chance in the Cornish town is another character who sees himself an outsider. (For example he never knows fully whether he is talking to Violet or Bea.)
So with themes of difference and similarity, race, community and class. Patricia Ferguson has created a complex novel that explores life in a small town at the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel ends, not with Grace, but with the new war memorial to the young men who never returned. There's one in every community and we should never forget that each name is one lost life, one network of family, love,friendship and memory, of happiness, joy, pain and hardship, of lives shattered but also new beginnings.
If you only want a novel with a neatly tied up, beribboned happy ending, forget The Midwife's Daughter. But if you want a superbly-written novel about complex, well-drawn characters, to laugh and to cry, often both at the same time, then I can't recommend it highly enough.
Silkhampton in Cornwall, the Twentieth Century just begun. Gruff and Godfearing, Violet brought into the world many of the faces she encounters each day. Now she causes the tiny community to gape, taking under her wing the first coloured person it has seen....
For much of its way this is a novel full of heart - the locality evocatively depicted, the inhabitants vividly portrayed. Violet herself comes over strongly. (Be advised there no holding back with problems confronted, decisions to be made, whenever a baby is born.) Especially intriguing is her complicated relationship with identical twin Bea. Why is each so wary of the other, what deep secrets are never voiced? Little coloured Grace, who transforms their lives, is a delight. Each day she is conscious of that difference which makes so many uneasy, each evening she prays to wake up white.
For over two thirds of its length, the novel grips. Sadly impact diminishes as the years pass, especially with that lurch into a storyline which simply does not convince. For a while interest revives, but everything eventually flounders again - final chapters seemingly tagged on, emphasis no longer on those who had so prominently featured.
The novel's strength is its depiction of changing times. There is far more than the impact of a coloured new arrival and prejudices revealed. Violet's decades of skilled midwifery are now deemed old fashioned and dangerous - she, former stalwart, now sidelined. Increasingly to dominate is The Great War, taking its toll amongst rich and poor alike. Locals rapidly learn to adapt to the returning maimed - there no longer hostility or belittling of those who are different.
Yes, there is much to recommend, but Grace herself seems to have been let down by plot developments.
Five stars for much of the book, three stars for the its last third.
Patricia Ferguson knows how to write a solid novel. The story follows the lives of Violet (the midwife, or handywoman), and her adopted daughter Grace. The importance of this tale would not exist if not for the fact that Grace is black, and Violet is white. In a time before WWI it is almost scandalous that a respectable woman would take this child into her home as her own. They both suffer terribly at the hands of those who are too ignorant to know better, and those who are too full of their own importance to even consider the feelings of others. Grace knows that she is different and often wishes she could be light-skinned, like her mother. Violet too wishes that she could make the world accept her daughter for who she is.
The story is touching, and at times utterly heartwrenching. The reader follows the lives of Grace and Violet, and their trials and tribulations over the years. It maps out the changes that really were happening during those times. The old practice of the 'handywoman' was being phased out rapidly, in favour of more educated midwives. Undermining many years of dedication and family knowledge, must have felt like an all out attack on those concerned. Ferguson manages to conjure up these kinds of emotions very skillfully.
Overall, this story is hard-hitting and more than worthy of your time. It raises so many thoughts and questions from the reader that it is difficult to put down. I highly recommend it.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2012
This is a book which addresses some of the important questions about life through a wonderfully gripping story, with believable characters and writing full of intelligence and dry wit. Ferguson presents life in all its amazing, painful complexity, with no simplistic sorting into heroes and villains. Joe, injured on the muddy battle-fields of France, can't abide the French, but looks at black Grace and sees a real and beautiful girl. Violet, in early twentieth century Cornwall, hasn't had the benefit of a modern midwifery training, but she brings unsentimental kindness and good sense to her work, unlike the better-qualified woman who replaces her. Grace,her adopted daughter, struggles with being the only black child in her community, and through her eyes we see the wide range of human responses to difference, from the older girls at school who see her as a thrilling novelty, through thoughtless unkindness, to the man who uses her colour as an excuse to behave as though she were less than human.
The "whole mad disaster" of the First World War is the background to the events of Grace's growing up, where horror and violence can occur in women's domestic lives as well as to men on the battlefield, and tragedy can result from apparently small things - a failure of a mother's love, a man's abandonment of his responsibilities. Yet there is also a great deal of humour and warmth in the book,and as always,Ferguson's use of language is a constant delight. The story itself will make you need to know what happens, but the thing I love most is Ferguson's refusal to shy away from the uncomfortable or complicated - that we all have our prejudices, and the capacity to behave badly in some situations - and while we condemn the pointlessness of war, we can be stirred by the glory of Shakespeare's Henry V, crying "God for Harry, England and St George!" Only if we can allow ourselves to recognise this, can there be any hope of a "post-war" understanding. The novel leaves us with questions as relevant today as they were in 1918.
'The Midwife's Daughter' by Patricia Ferguson is a story with several entwining threads. Violet Dimond is the midwife in question, a very experienced local woman, who, although having no professional qualifications, is a calm and competent woman who has delivered many of the local babies. Violet has an adopted daughter, Grace, who is 'different' - having a different colour skin to the locals. Grace, although accepted by the local community, has many battles to fight in the coming years, when the onset of war changes everything and everybody. For Violet, Grace and everyone else, the war brings tragedy, loss, heartbreak and struggle. Secrets that have been kept for a very long time are revealed, with the devastation they bring. Men march off to war, never to return, or to come back damaged, physically and mentally. Innocence is lost, and the world turns, as it always has. Attitudes change, as they have to, and Violet, Grace and everyone else have to learn to adapt.
I really enjoyed this book. I thought the depiction of the prejudice shown to Grace was very affecting, and really made me think. Recommended.