Author: Jennifer Worth
The second novel in her autobiography as a 22 year old working in the poorest section of postwar London as a midwife, Jennifer Worth is compelling. The novels are now a PBS series.
At Nonnatus House (a pseudonym), a convent and working base for nursing and midwifery services of the Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus, young Jennifer Worth works with the Sisters in the 1950s in the poorest sections of London: Poplar, the Isle of Dogs, Stepney, Limehouse, Millwall, Bow, Mile End and parts of Whitechapel. The people she helps live in a Dickensian world, with no running hot water, outdoor lavatories, no bathrooms, and gaslight instead of electricity. And yet, within the walls of these poor families, Jennifer finds people of extreme courage within the poverty they reside in. Her stories are of heros, love and courage amidst the horrible conditions of the Workhouse, among other institutions.
Like any classis, Worth’s characters fall into us, and we fall in love with them. Her characterizations are both personal, authentic, and so well done that Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse reads as a true cross between Dostoyevsky and Kafka.
Frank and Peggy are sister in brother, sent to the workhouse because their parents have too many children and cannot feed them. They see their father in the workhouse also, but cannot talk to him – he is with the adults, they are separated into the girl section and the boy section. Nothing less than a labor camp for the poor, they are abused and starved while being forced to work endlessly. Frank finally gets them out and the story of their survival surprises and stuns.
Jane also comes from the workhouse, a bubbly and effervescent child who is abused so badly at the Workhouse that she comes out barely human, terrified and silent. She works at Nonnatas House, where she finds the love she deserves and a life that gives her back her dignity.
Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran has horrible abcesses of his legs due to war wounds and the fact that he can no longer take care of himself. Jennifer visits him 3 times a week to treat his wounds, and ends up becoming his friend, visiting on weeknights while he tells her the story of his courage and humility through the war and the deaths of his family. When he is taken to the workhouse, Jennifer visits him there and tells the story of a man who is a true hero, through tremendous pain and humiliation.
At the heart of Call the Midwife, Worth defines the true sense of what it takes to be human, and how people retain their souls and their dignity through events that would kill even the strongest. As she delivers babies, and the sick, she gives back their hearts within a book that travels from sadness to the brilliance of human resilience.
Not a book to miss, this is one of the best of the best.
Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse is available at bookstores nationwide.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.