Friday, October 29, 2010

The Birth House: Review

Although it's been a while since I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, I expected when I picked up Ami McKay's The Birth House that the latter would remind me of the former. And in many ways it did - both books explore psycho-sexual-reproductive aspects of women's bodies. Both create spaces in which women's bodies and relationships are developed. And both focus on strong young girls who transform inside the stories into powerful young women after their debuts into these spaces. One could stretch a little and suggest that the two books also share being deeply tied to a particular time and place - The Red Tent being in Old Testament Canaan and The Birth House being in an isolate Nova Scotia village circa 1920, but those times and places are so far apart it's hardly worth comparing.

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Stylistically, the books couldn't be further apart. As I said, it's been a while since I read The Red Tent yet I remember the vivid, even gory, scenes of menstruation, birth, rape, murder. It's surprisingly violent for a 'women's book' (that's really a whole other discussion). On the other hand, while The Birth House does not shy away from the dark edges of life, it does so with what I can only somewhat shame-facedly describe as a 'feminine' energy. Lightness. The power of the women in The Birth House is also the power of community and friendship.

Dora Rare, the heroine of The Birth House,  - like Dina before her - is the only daughter in a string of brothers. In Dora's case, surviving the rough and tumble world of being raised with boys has made her wily. She uses cunning and sometimes even a paradoxically innocent guile to survive the men who rise up against her. She has the flexibility and strength of bamboo as she adjusts to the vagaries of life. She inspiring yet grounded in the author's great research.

I loved reading The Birth House. I love that it ends happily and without bowing to convention. It was the kind of book that felt like a friend. And couldn't we all use more of that?


  1. I loved both those books. And if you liked the Red Tent, I highly recommend The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham. It's the passion of the christ told through Mary's side of the story, sort of the same way The Red Tent tells the story of Jacob through Dina. It encompasses all of the aspects of Mary - wife, priestess, whore - rather than trying to pigeon hole her into one role. Such a juicy read!

  2. Oh, that sounds really good! So are you managing to get any reading time in while BabyA sleeps? :)


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