Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review - "The Birth of Love" by Joanna Kavenna

Joanna Kavenna juggles three storylines across three periods of time, and somehow manages to make them intersect. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is in a mental institution in nineteenth-century Vienna because he proposed the idea that doctors should wash their hands after performing autopsies and before assisting in childbirth. Brigid Hayes, in present-day London, tries to go about her normal routine of caring for her young son even as labor pains begin. Over a century in the future, on an Earth that regulates birth and has reduced familial terms to scientific ones, two people have been taken prisoner for assisting a pregnant woman and witnessing the birth.

Each story is written in a different style, and some read more easily than others. Even without the connecting threads, they would be compelling. One almost wished Kavenna had written three separate novels in order to flesh out the worlds more, although she probably would have had to use a different style in order to keep the reader's attention through a book-length story.

Childbirth is the most elemental fact of life, well, along with death. Everyone is born and everyone dies, and everyone is touched by birth, including infertile couples, who struggle with the knowledge that they can't participate in that elemental fact of life. In Kavenna's book, some of the characters are not mothers, yet they are impacted by childbirth all the same. Kavenna also explores the relationship between mothers and children, more specifically sons. Pick up this book if you like literary novels or books that take risks stylistically. Feel free to skim--or even skip altogether--the sections that don't pique your interest, but realize you may be missing a fresh take on the subject of birth and motherhood.

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