Sunday, September 30, 2012

From Book to Television Series - Overnight!

This caught my eye in non-fiction at the library.  "Call the Midwife" by Jennifer Worth   Penguin Books   340 pages   $16 softback.

There is a banner running across the top of the cover that reads, "Now A PBS Series!"    I shrugged, must have missed it, and began to read.  It was originally published as "The Midwife."

The story is set in the mid-1950s in post-war London.  As it opens, Jennifer Worth is pedaling her bike through the night to deliver a baby in the East End.  She wonders to herself why she ever left nursing to become a midwife.  But after a successful delivery, she feels that yes, it was all worth it.

She left nursing to attend The Midwives of St. Raymond Nonatus (which means "delivered by Caesarian" or, in Latin, "not born.")  The school was run by an order of nuns who, not surprisingly, lived together in a convent.  There is some pretty confusion ("What am I doing in a convent?") when she first arrives, but all is soon straightened out.

The stories of human lives in the dirt-poor section of the wharves are interesting and some are funny.  The convent's handyman decides to raise a pig.  Food was scarce.  It was decided after a while not to kill the pig but to breed her and sell the piglets.  Breeding her becomes problematical in the crowded East End of London. 

There is a terrible old crone who manages to show up at every delivery and ask fearfully about the mother and baby.  Her reason for doing this turns out to be a heartbreaking story.  It devolves that she was in a "workhouse."  These were dreadful establishments to feed the poor - strictly segregated.  Husbands and wives never saw each other again; children were separated from their parents.  These, the poorest of the poor, all lived and worked around the place to justify their existence.  The old woman was kept there from 1919 to 1936 when these places were abolished and the inmates turned loose on the streets.  She was told when one of her children died, but not allowed to see them or attend the funeral, if any.

The sisters themselves add variety to the stew of people and events.  Author Worth not only lived these chapters but she also wrote of them convincingly.  Past tense:  she died in May, 2011, leaving a husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.

I finished it last night and put the book down.  Imagine my surprise to see the front page of the LA Times arts section this morning!  There was a big photo and an article on the PBS series "Call the Midwife" which begins tonight (Sunday, 9/30/12) at 8 p.m. Pacific time on PBS.  This I gotta see.

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