Book Title: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Author: Meg Elison
Goodreads Link: Click here
Star Rating: – Good book, I liked it.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an un-biased review.
A dystopian book about the survival of the human race in the aftermath of a worldwide plague that kills 98% of men and very nearly 100% of women. The women who survive face a certain death in childbirth if they become pregnant.
I have to admit I am seriously torn about this book. While it was a good read, and had a lot to say about women and their role in society the book was incredibly brutal. When the Unnamed Midwife wakes from a fever, she has survived the plague but is almost immediately attacked by a man who sees her wandering the emptied streets. She has woken up in a horrible new world. The vast majority of people in the world have died and it would seem that most men have decided they have the right to claim and subjugate any women that are left to find. Those women become slaves.
As a former midwife and nurse, the main character recognizes that the women who are left will need medical help if they are to survive. She raids a pharmacy, loads up on contraceptives and antibiotics, dresses herself as a man and sets out. Her only hope is to get as far as possible from other people as she can. She can’t avoid meeting other people on the road and their experiences are horrendous. When she does meet a woman she hopes to help them to at least prolong their lives for a while by offering the contraceptives.
It is a bleak worldview, but is it unrealistic? My first reaction to the opening chapters of this book was horror. Are we starting off with rape and violence so soon? Is this whole book going to be about the sexual subjugation of women in this awful world? Is this really what we think the world would look like in these circumstances? Do I want to keep reading this? I was getting ready to put it on my DNF list and write an apology to the publisher. Then I saw this picture on the internet.
Good lord. The Chibok girls. They were kidnapped by Boko Haram two years ago, are still in captivity. Married against their will. This is reality. This IS what happens to women when society collapses. This happens to women every day, right here in this world. I can’t just turn my face away and say “I don’t like this.” This is real life.
While I recognize that this is not a book for everyone, goodness knows it’s not really even for me, what the author has to say is important. The author is clear eyed and honest. She approaches the subject matter with forthrightness. Be warned, there is violence, sex and misery, but that’s not all this book is about. It has bittersweet moments. The Unnamed Midwife weeps when a friend gives her a pile of books written by women. Imagine a life without sisters, girlfriends, mothers, aunts, neices, and daughters! Imagine the only feminine voices left to hear are in the pages of a book? There are also moments of humor and tenderness. The Midwife’s attempts to change her body language so she can pass herself off as a man are hilariously truthful about the differences between men and women. As she travels she encounters women who find their own way to rise above the circumstances they find themselves in. There are men who hurt, and men who help. She inspires others to take a stand for common decency. Meanwhile, the Midwife keeps on keeping on, surviving. Her story becomes a testimony. May it also be a false prophecy. #bringourgirlsback
Bonus Link: Visit the UN Women organization working for women’s rights worldwide.
Song for this book: Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush