Monthly Archives: August 2011

MIDWIVES by Chris Bohjalian

I have two friends training to be midwives – both motivated primarily because they want to give more women the option of a home birth. One of these friends came to visit me recently and it prompted me to re-read this book, which is centred around the death of one woman, Charlotte, during a home birth. Charlotte is under the care of an independent midwife and it is this midwife’s daughter who tells the story, culminating in a court case during which the daughter plays an unexpected but critical role. The book explores many of the prejudices around home births and the benefits, but without lecturing you. The characters and the plot do all the work.

Despite the terrible death which kickstarts MIDWIVES, I very much read it as a ringing endorsement of home birth – although granted I have my own longstanding prejudice in favour. The love and compassion of the midwives in the book is palpable and what especially appealed to me is that there are lots of genuinely good people in the story – all trying to do their best in life by others even if sometimes getting it wrong. Charlotte’s husband Asa, a preacher, is especially memorable for his reaction to her death.

This is a very moving book- I cried lots – although maybe not one for an aspiring midwife to read, so my visiting friend left without a copy in her bag.

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THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi

I have already recommended this novel to several people just for the sheer joy of saying the author’s name out loud. It means kiss of the wolf and is pronounced batch-i-ga-loop-ee.

Like lots of sci-fi, this took me a while to get into in. As well as following what is going on and who is who, you need to understand a wole new world, and often a whole new language. I gave up on this first time round but determined to persevere and I am glad I did.

The future of THE WINDUPGIRL is post energy crisis – unlike in lots of sci fi nobody is running lots of high tech equipment. Rather conserving scarce fossil fuels or generating alternative sources of power is the norm. In Bangkok, where the story is set, much of the city runs off energy created by megadonts, vast elephant-like genetically engineered beasts whose brute power is harnesssed to  keep the lights on and run the dams holding back rising sea waters. The Windup Girl of the title is also genetically engineered and one of the questions posed by the book is just how far will people accept this technology. Corporations have a stranglehold on the world’s food supply, selling sterile seed and unleashing a range of new plagues and diseases in the process. In Thailand, the Environment Ministry is fighting back thanks to some dedicated soldiers but the Trade Ministry is vying with them for power and  all sorts of double crossing and corruption abounds in both Government departments.

Nothing in this world is quite what it seems. Whilst the tell tale ‘herky jerky’ movement engineered into the Windup Girl mark her out as different, generating  mistrust, fear and loathing amongst most of those she meets, in fact she is one of the least morally irresponsible characters in the story. After all, she is engineered to behave as she does – everyone else has a choice.

Bangkok has attracted the attention of the calorie corporations because fruit and vegetable variants that ought not to exist are appearing in the city’s food markets. Anderson Lake, working undercover for AgriGen concludes that Thailand has a historic seed bank and that former corporate genetics experts are now drawing on the country’s rich  genetic heritage to hack into the controlled for profit imported food supplies.  As everyone’s desire for power, success and wealth takes hold, all hell breaks loose.

I loved this book but the one disappointment was what I read as a hopeless ending. Maybe others will find some hope there but I was left simply with a hollow, sad feeling – and a renewed determination not to let our future look anything like the one Bacigalupi has created.

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Cath’s Library

This blog is a record of the books I have read. It was born out of my love of reading – and the fact that my friends often ask me to recommend books for them. It’s 2011 and I turned 40 this year. Looking back on my life so far, books seem to define who I was at a particular time, to feature heavily in my memories of key events, and to provide a framework to my past. The plan is to catalogue all the books I will read over the next 40 years – forming a diary of sorts but, more importantly, a way to share the best, and the worst, of Cath’s library. It will feature books already on my bookshelves because I like to revisit them time and again, as well as new discoveries. What I am not setting out to do is literary criticism – this blog is very much my own personal response to the books I have read, and what they mean to me.

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