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on 24 May 2015
Having become a huge fan of Jennifer Worth's books, I welcomed the opportunity to find out more about the Community of St John the Divine; the actual Anglican community where Jennifer undertook her Part II midwifery training, and on which the order of Nonnatus House in Call The Midwife was based on.
Some of the most moving scenes in Call The Midwife depict the nuns chanting or in their act of worship, and I have been fascinated to find out more about the lives of the nuns which combined their religious discipline with midwifery and district nursing - long hours of hard toil as well as following their spiritual lives.
Sisters of the East End has been brilliantly written by Helen Batten as a memoir of the life of a nun, Sister Catherine Mary, who entered the CSJD community in 1958, the same year as Jennifer joined them to continue her midwifery training. The recount of Sister Catherine Mary's life has been based on the real experiences of the six existing Sisters of the CSJD, who shared the stories of their lives working as nurses and midwives with Helen. This is not dissimilar to the way Jennifer herself wrote her own memoirs, which are an amalgamation of personal recollections and those of colleagues and parish workers who worked within the district of Poplar, with names being changed to protect individual's identities. What we can enjoy then is an authentic and personal account of the journey of a girl born in North London who receives her Call in her early twenties, and has spent the rest of her life following her vocation as a nun, nurse, midwife and spiritual director. Just as in Jennifer's books there is much humour as well as the natural doubts and worries of the Sister as she passes through the different levels before taking her life vows. But it's so much more than this; we learn the history of the CSJD from its founding in 1848, the evolvement of nursing and midwifery, an account of how the Sisters set up a midwifery school in Milawi, and how the community has always kept apace with modern times.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and read it cover to cover in one day. The Sisters have collaborated with the makers of the BBC Call The Midwife series, and some of their tales can also be enjoyed in the book, The Life and Times of Call The Midwife. I was woefully ignorant of the connection between nursing and nuns (it's no coincidence they are known as Sisters!), and this book has opened new avenues of interest in nursing, the lives of those who enter religious communities, and the East End. It's a story of faith and humanity, and I came away with a sense of serenity and love, borne from these people who have had the good fortune of finding their vocation.
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on 21 September 2017
I came to this after reading some Jennifer Worth books and enjoying the TV series, and I really enjoyed it. A fascinating story with many touching and sometimes amusing incidents.
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on 3 August 2017
It was a good read after reading the Call the Midwifes books but I think it would be a little bland if you read it alone.
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on 9 April 2015
I was hoping for more as it was from the same source as Jennifer Worth's writing. Sadly it did not live up to expectations, it was dull and basically uninspiring.
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on 10 May 2014
fantastic read and it was delivered in three days
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on 4 August 2017
Very satisfied
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on 17 October 2013
Enjoyed this insight into the religious community that formed the background to Jennifer Worth's book Call the Midwife. The history of the Nursing and Midwifery Nuns was interesting although the focus was from the viewpoint of one Nun who had entered the community as a young woman and followed her progress within the order. It was well written and different from other works centred around the Nursing profession.
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on 20 February 2014
This book claims to tell the stories of the nuns that were from the order of St John the Devine, the order from Call the midwife. If the book had actually told some of their stories separately it would have been interesting. If it had told one of their stories it would have been interesting. What it actually did was mash their stories together and come up with a book. So are we supposed to believe that All of it is true? Some of it is true? Instead we have a made up character that reflects aspects and events from their lives. It's lack of 'truth' is what is lacking. I don't believe that this book would have been published had it not been for 'Call the Midwife'. But it in no way measures up.
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on 17 March 2014
I picked this up in the library and sat down to read the first chapter. Unfortunately the writing style didn't appeal to me. Dipping in to the book a bit further on simply reinforced my opinion that it is poorly written. Didn't even bother to take it home.

Puzzled to see on the outside back cover that Katie 'rallies against the vow....'. Think this should read 'rails against the vow...'.

Not impressed.
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on 19 January 2014
My mother was a midwife who worked with the sisters of the Community of St John the Divine in the late 1940s - so I had a particular interest in finding out more
The book was very instructive in terms of the development of the Community over a long period of time and indeed the development of professional nursing and midwifery as a profession in the UK and the significant role played by the religious orders in that development.
It was also fascinating to gain some insight into the experience of a nun who has lived her life in Holy Orders and how the Community has not been rigid over that time but has evolved. To read of the dedication and commitment shown by the Sisters was humbling; but the individuals are never portrayed as "saints" (with halos) - but rather real people with real struggles, doubts and difficulties. I was pleased that I had read a book based on nuns who had remained in orders/community - and this was a balance to Karen Armstrong's books (such as "The Spiral Staircase") which I would also recommend.
I was brought up short by meeting with a life based on a different mindset and values; for example, when training alongside "lay-people" they were due to receive their first monthly pay. There was much discussion in the group about how the money would be used (party, clothes etc). For the nun the money was paid direct to the community, because she did not own anything...... Some of her colleague expressed the opinion that they would not do the work for no pay - but for the nun it was a privilege to be serving and pay was irrelevant..... that certainly made me think!
My one disappointment with the book was that there was little revealed about the consolations to be drawn from the religious life - mention was made of spending "nights in prayer" but this is something rather alien to me, and so some attempt at sharing the experience or explaining how this can work would have been very welcome. The nuns had done amazing works of service - but the source of their dedication inspiration and strength was not explored in any great depth.
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