Patricia Harman’s latest novel captures life in West Virginia amidst the struggles of World War II.

➼ Nothing miraculous happens in this book. There’s no love triangle. No sleep-with-the-lights-on mystery. No sword-clashing battle scene. Patricia Harman’s Once a Midwife portrays the ordinary, small-town world of West Virginia midwife Patience Hester during the second World War. Yet, that ordinariness makes Patience’s story all the more captivating. Harman doesn’t dramatize.

Rather, she highlights the simple wonder that is the cycle of life and death, joy and sorrow.

Patience, her husband, Daniel, and their four youngsters have finally recuperated from the Great Depression. Patience’s friend and fellow midwife Bitsy Proudfoot returns to Hope River, and together they welcome new lives into the world.

Then, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.

The repercussions threaten the stability Patience has built. The very community she’s helped birth ostracizes her family after Daniel’s conscientious objection—and his eventual imprisonment. Bitsy engages in an interracial relationship with her white factory supervisor. Questions of patriotism, racial equality, and family solidarity arise daily. In spite of trials, the two women always choose hope over despair. As Patience says, “Strength grows when you feel you can’t go on, but you keep going on.”

Once a Midwife is the third novel in Harman’s Hope River series, although newcomers will find it stands alone nicely. The story sometimes lulls between the more action-filled scenes. But, that’s life, isn’t it? Brief flashes of brilliance against an otherwise unremarkable routine, and all beautiful nonetheless.

Written by Jess Walker

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Jess Walker
Written by Jess Walker
Jess Walker came to West Virginia to pursue her master’s degree in English, but stayed for the culture, nature, and stories. She writes for WV Living and Morgantown magazines. Her best ideas happen when she’s outdoors, preferably near a river and with a cup of coffee in hand.