orlean-puckettThe Life of a Mountain Midwife is an interesting, but sometimes meandering, biography about a midwife named Orlean Puckett who lived and worked in rural Appalachia.

This reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books in that Karen Cecil Smith takes great care to detail the day-to-day chores, food, clothing, and lives of the people of Appalachian Mountains in the 1800’s to 1900’s. I loved those intimate details, many of which are completely gone from the modern lifestyle like chopping wood, lighting the stove, and cleaning laundry by hand.

Also, I am a big fan of BBC television show, Call the Midwives so the chapter detailing Puckett’s extraordinary midwifery skills was fascinating to me. Take this gem: “Aunt Orlean continued to ask, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time to feather her?’ Dr. Cundiff finally said, ‘Okay,’ at which point Aunt Orlean produced from her bag a goose feather. She stuck it into the fire and then placed the smoking feather beneath the mother’s nose. The mother started coughing and sneezing and the baby was born immediately.” pg 101 Can you believe that!

Astoundingly, Orlean Puckett delivered over 1000 babies with almost zero training and never lost a mother or child.

Karen Cecil Smith utilizes actual interview tidbits from many of the people who knew Orlean Puckett for this book and that was also enjoyable. She maintained their improper grammar and local accent which lent real flavor to the narrative. For example, many of the children that Orlean helped deliver said that she “borned” them. Here’s a memory from a relative: “Now I was gonna stay up there one night with Granny (Orlean) and she was gonna learn me how to bake wheat bread the next mornin’ and Uncle Stewart he had to go to work and they waked me up and wanted to know if I wanted to put on bread.” pg 57

My only complaint about this book is that it wanders in places and the reader is led into extended stories about ancillary people to Orlean’s life when, this reader at least, just wanted to know more about the Orlean herself.

If you are mainly interested in local history, this book is like a casual conversation with an elderly friend. I’d even go so far as to compare it to an unedited Story Corp interview. It can be charming but also frustrating when the story goes on and on but doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

If you enjoyed this book, I’d suggest any of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. They have the same sort of detail oriented focus but with more of a story line.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program. Thank you for reading!


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