Currently, in the U.K., there is a new BBC series that is drawing in a bigger audience than Downton Abbey. It is Call the Midwife, based on a memoir of a midwife in postwar London's East End slums. The midwife is Jennifer Worth, who works with a convent of nurse/midwives as they bicycle about the Docklands slums in the 1950's, delivering babies, offering natal care and general nursing to the community. These were the poorest of the poor, housed in tenements where women had to carry heavy prams up and down many flights of stairs and daily life was an endless drudgery of washing, cleaning, childrearing and cooking.
Each chapter of the memoir is a vignette telling of colorful characters ranging from the author's wealthy co-worker midwife, Camilla Fortescue-Cholmely-Browne, "Just call me ‘Chummy'"--whose conversation was full of "Good show," and "What Ho's"--to the Cockney nun who was able to make a hilarious and memorable breakthrough with a crusty old local needing care.
Don't be expecting a cozy, nostalgic look at these times and people. Some of the chapters are shockingly graphic, imparting lurid details of prostitutes and what went on in dockyards' brothels.
But the best story by far is the one she relates about the woman who delivered her 25th baby prematurely at home in one of the worst London smogs ever. What the author witnessed was a powerful testament to the power of family love and the human spirit.
This is a book that will stay with you a long time, whose characters' stamina will inspire, whose pluckiness will have you roaring with laughter, and whose heart will have you moved to tears.
London Sunday Times journalist India Knight describes her take on the TV series: "I love it because its themes of life and death are gigantic and universal, and because I cry at least twice each episode."
It took Downton Abbey about nine months to export itself to America; perhaps Call the Midwife will arrive a bit more prematurely to our shores, to the same great acclaim it already has enjoyed in England.
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder