The Secrets of Midwives
By Sally Hepworth. (St. Martin's Press, 308 pages, $25.99)
Three generations of midwives are bound by three generations of secrets in this novel that inevitably will be categorized as "women's fiction," but what the heck — that's OK. It's about childbirth, after all. Still, it's nice to realize that Hepworth avoids the tempting trap of casting the men as, if not villains, at least lesser beings.
Neva Bradley, 29 and single, is the daughter who finds herself pregnant. That she won't divulge the father's identity drives Grace, her mother, to distraction — a reaction that, it becomes clear, has been lifelong. Floss, the grandmother, has her own reasons for condoning Neva's determination to manage her pregnancy, and her motherhood, on her own.
The arc of the story is driven by an incident in Floss' past that, while not wholly expected, brings the act of childbirth into sharp perspective. For some mothers, this book will trigger almost fond memories of labor pains, which in itself speaks to the depth of Hepworth's research into midwifery.
A FIFTY-YEAR SILENCE
By Miranda Richmond Mouillot. (Crown Publishers, 271 pages, $26.)
A young American woman's love for her grandparents, who are adamantly estranged for mysterious reasons, leads to a life-transforming journey for her. Mouillot's grandmother, Anna, a North Carolina resident in her final years, is a lively, chatty little old lady who is also a physician, writer and Holocaust survivor. In scattered, alternately eloquent and incoherent talks and letters, she tells Miranda a little here, a little there, about her 1944 marriage, which ended in the early 1950s.
Mouillot also spends time with Armand, her ancient Jewish-atheist grandfather in Geneva, tiptoeing around his history when her curious questions inspire almost violent volatility on his part. Meanwhile, her wandering life and ways lead her to a crumbling stone house in Alba-la-Romaine, France, that her grandparents lived in.
Some of the clues, she comes to learn, lie in his role as a translator during the postwar Nuremberg trials. Over the years, Mouillot slowly illuminates her grandparents' painful history even as she finds her own path and writes her own life's story. This is a beautiful, wise, melancholy book, part memoir, part history, part riveting true-life mystery and, most of all, a salute to the complexities of love.
West/North team leader