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Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s (The Midwife Trilogy #1)

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  32,495 Ratings  ·  4,412 Reviews
An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published 2007 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published 2002)
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Jo I think that a teen could handle this. The disturbing content referred to is actually about a teenager; I tend to think that if a teenager can survive…moreI think that a teen could handle this. The disturbing content referred to is actually about a teenager; I tend to think that if a teenager can survive the actual experience, a teenager can survive (and would likely benefit from) reading about it. Removing any troubling content from the book would lead to an inaccurate and "sanitized" rather than true portrait of the author's experience and the experiences of the women she encountered in her work, which would be a loss for the reader. (less)
Emily Yes, the series is wonderful! I'm not sure how the book compares as I just started reading it, but I imagine they match up fairly well (PBS doesn't…moreYes, the series is wonderful! I'm not sure how the book compares as I just started reading it, but I imagine they match up fairly well (PBS doesn't seem like the type to ruin a book during adaptation). (less)
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Having given birth with the support of a midwife three times, when I heard about this one, I knew I had to make time to read it. The Midwife is the memoir of Jennifer Worth (“Jenny”) and her experiences in the East End Slums of post-war London. I think three things come together to make this a very interesting book.

First, the voice of Jenny. She is candid and real - her storytelling doesn't sugar-coat her experiences or her mistakes. She never pretends that the East End was anything other than w
Mar 20, 2013 Alaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm writing this as I'm just about halfway through so I may revise this later. For now, oh man. I have some issues with this book. I started reading it after I watched all of the first season of Call the Midwife on Netflix. I loved the show and got excited to see they were based on actual books.

Maybe my opinion is tainted by the fact that the author states she was trying to be the James Herriot of midwives. But as I've been reading, I've had the impression in many places that she was trying to
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing
I read the companion book to this last year and hadn't been able to get this in the US, but now I am in the UK with my terminally-ill mother I took the opportunity to find it. You wouldn't think that the world of the 50s was so different as it is now, but this depiction of the 50s, of bombed-out London, health care where antibiotics were the new miracle drug and children played safely in the streets because there were no cars is truly another world. This, though, is also the story of a young nur ...more
Sep 16, 2012 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I see now that this is the first book of a series:

This book is fun. You are told astounding stories about the author's years working as a midwife at the Nonnatus House Convent in the Docklands during the 1950s. You meet the wonderful Sister Monica Joan, a somewhat "crazy" ninety year-old nun, Conchita Warren who will give birth to both her twenty-forth and twenty-fifth child, the latter premature of only 28 weeks gestation, weighing less than two pounds,
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I liked the setting -- 1950s London -- but I had been wary of reading 300-plus pages about pregnancies and birthing and midwifery. In movies and TV shows, for instance, I hatehatehate childbirth scenes. It's always the same: The mother cries out in pain, the father looks anxious, the doctor sternly gives orders, and then presto! A sweet and wrinkled baby is handed to the parents.*

But "Call the Midwife" (which is also the name of the 2012 BBC seri
May 21, 2013 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh, that I could have six stars to give. . .

Having originally been smitten with this wonderful British TV series, I am now head over heels in love with the book. It's the first of a trilogy which pleases me to no end. I must get my book club to read this.

One of my favorite chapters is about a friendship between Chummy and an adolescent boy. It's barely touched upon on TV. The luncheon party where
Jennifer's three male friends are invited to dine at the convent is pure comic genius. The premature
Jan 11, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Post war London with its bombed out buildings and slums is the setting for much of this interesting and entertaining non-fiction read. There are so many incredible stories in this memoir by Jennifer Worth that it is difficult to pick a favorite, but I loved Chummy with her big ole heart, old-fashioned bicycle and her hero Jack who, as you will see, did become important in his day. Mary's story of prostitution is sad and touching, but Mrs. Jenkin's surrender to the workhouse is just beyond words. ...more
I decided to read this book because I recently watched the BBC/PBS show "Call the Midwife", which is based on the memoirs by Jennifer Worth. I absolutely fell in love with the TV show-- it has a perfect mix of happy and sad, with great characters.

That being said, I actually came away from the book "Call the Midwife" feeling a little unsatisfied. I certainly enjoyed the stories that she told. Some were heart-breaking, some sweet or funny. I enjoyed the subplot about Jenny discovering a profound
Katrina Noble
Aug 01, 2013 Katrina Noble rated it liked it
It was an incredible read that was marred by an obscenely disgusting chapter right smack dab in the middle that made me have to question whether I should continue or not. I did continue after skimming past the incredibly gross part and was glad that I did because the remaining stories were very interesting/unique and the final few were inspirational. I just really hated that such a wonderful read had to be almost ruined entirely by a poor editing choice. Granted this was based on real life exper ...more
Feb 19, 2016 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a wonderful memoir of a young woman's new life into the midwifery world. It is quite candid in its approach to midwifery, the struggles of women (mostly the poor), and dawn of modern medicine. It is hard to believe that there were never maternity wards in hospitals until the 1950's.

Birth control, or rather the lack of it, was such a dilemma for women who were single, overworked, poor, ill, and/or exhausted.
Anja Kefala
Earlier I spoke about how I wished there were more stories about young people my age navigating the early stages of their careers. Call the Midwife is an example of such a story.

Call the Midwife is a quake story. It opened my eyes to how much of a powerful force empathy is. On top of that, I have learned more about the history of medicine as it impacts the middle class than I have in my University degrees which involved looking into Experimental Medicine. There's literally something in these st
Ayelet Waldman
I alternated between wishing I'd had this kind of care and thanking God I hadn't.
4.5 stars - Spoilers

I absolutely love the tv show, it's brilliant. I'm so obsessed with it that I decided to check out the book even though I never read non-fiction. I'm really glad I picked it up because it turned out to be a fascinating, heartbreaking, and lovely read.

Random thoughts:

-Summary: Jennifer Worth's memoirs of her time as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s. There's stories of herself, her patients, and the nuns she lives and works with… And they're all great.

-I really
Apr 11, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: british
3.5 stars.

I'm a sucker for babies, birth stories, and midwives tales, so I was all set to love this. I found it kind of lacking in coherence, though. It's a collection of loosely linked vignettes and I think it would have benefitted from a better editor.

Some of the stories kind of stood alone, some connected, and there was not much arc connecting the whole book. I found it interesting -- certainly I learned things about London that I had never known before, and much of it was shocking -- but I
I watched the BBC series Call the Midwife before I read this, and knew I would not be able to be objective about it. I already knew all the beautiful people in the book before I started. I wouldn't know where to start if I were to enumerate all of them. Some are nuns, some are young midwives, some are courageous mothers doing their best in impossible situations, some amazing fathers providing and caring for their family in horrendous circumstances, and some piteous brave children surviving the u ...more
Naomi Sarah
WOW. I really really really loved this book. T'was amazing. (Aside from a few little things, it's a definite 5-star read. Alas, there were some unnecessary things in it, so I have to mention that if Goodreads were so kind as to invent half-stars, I would readily rate it 4.5. However, I do not have the heart to rate it down; it was that good.)

Where to start?!! THINGS I LOVED A WHOLE LOT:

1. Jenny Lee's WRITING STYLE. My goodness, it's amazing. It swoops up your entire brain into the re
Oct 20, 2011 Emily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
This book should come with a warning. I would hate for a 14 year old girl interested in midwifery to read this. I have read a lot of midwife memoirs, and they were nothing like this. It makes you want to take a shower. The rape of children, the systematic perversion of girls, detailed graphic public sex of a prostitute and multiple men. The author does well at describing what is seen, physically felt, and smelled. It is disgusting. If this book were made into a movie, it would be porn. I got a l ...more
Karen Wherlock
Apr 16, 2015 Karen Wherlock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I read it a couple of years ago, before I knew about the PBS series, which I also enjoyed. It took place beginning in 1958, just a year before I was born, in the poorest part of London. My mom grew up "working class" in London, in an upstairs flat in a terraced house, one of 6 children who lived. Three children did not. She was economically a step above the women portrayed in the book, but only a small one. The book describes a London still struggling to recover from war. Rati ...more
Feb 11, 2013 Alanna rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, but I sort of wanted more. I think my biggest problem was simply that Worth focused too much on the "colorful" characters she lived with, when I would have preferred to have heard more of the actual birth stories! She also kept hinting about some love of her life that hadn't worked out-- things like that tend to annoy me, especially in a memoir. If you're going to write a memoir, I feel you need to be brutally honest about yourself with your reader, so either give us the ent ...more
Jul 01, 2010 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. I borrowed it from a friend while in Dublin back in April thinking it may make for a nice read over the summer - I then found my flight back to the US cancelled (volcano) and myself slightly stranded at a hotel for three days. There's certainly worst places and worst conditions to be stranded in but I had already been travelling for nearly a month for work and missing my family terribly. I felt at an extreme low. I tried reading many things to distract me and pass the t ...more
Jun 23, 2013 Robyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this five stars. I loved the way it began. Jennifer Worth has an amazing ability to write about her past in vivid language, bringing situations and characters to life. I laughed and cried over each situation she described. My mother is a midwife so none of the births or medical terms and language bothered me, then came the chapter about prostitution.
I have watched the series so I knew there was a story with a young Irish girl who was trapped by greedy, powerful men in a life of
Jul 10, 2015 Ariel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think I had the much interest in 1950's East End London or midwifery but after watching the Netflix show on which these novels are based I can say that I find both to be absolutely fascinating. After watching the first two seasons of Call the Midwife which I love, love, love ( I especially adore Chummy) I wanted to know more about Jennifer Worth's life so I picked up this novel, the first in a series of three. The novel did not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Jennifer Worth states in her introduction that she wrote this book in response to an article bemoaning the dearth of midwives in literature. An interesting claim, since in my perception, midwives are everywhere in literature. If you are writing a book with a historical setting and you want a female character with professional skills, you have few other options. Worth and I must not read the same books.

Worth has also said that her books were intended to be the midwives’ version of James Herriot,
Feb 12, 2012 Blandine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
As a series of vignettes about a very interesting profession in a fascinating historical moment, this book was quick and fun to read. However, I would hesitate to recommend it to friends, because it is not very well written.

Insight is not Worth's strength. The book is sprinkled with tired old saws about men, women, and their relationships. Her obvious compassion for the poor shines through, but does not lead her to recognize or question many of her internalized prejudices; the way she writes abo
Jody Phillips
Jul 30, 2013 Jody Phillips rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book BUT in order for me to recommend it I have to say right up front --I do NOT recommend reading the chapter titled Cable Street. It's filled with horror. I wish I had skipped it. Made me physically ill and was hard to shake.

Other than that it is a great read, well written, full of insight into human nature and the history of London Docklands. It is, of course, full of stories of birth and families with peeks at the life of the nuns she (the author) worked with.

My favorite
Nov 03, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
What a heartwarming and at times funny way to visit the seedier side of London's East End slums post WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook with narration by Nicola Barber whose cockney accent is good enough to sound cockney, but yet understandable for those of us who can barely understand a true cockney!

I cried for young Mary who was introduced into prostitution at the tender age of 14 years old; I rooted for Conchita who birthed a 28-week old baby, couldn't understand a word of
May 12, 2015 Emma rated it really liked it
Guys, this book.


This book was just gorgeous.

Yes, it had pretty graphic descriptions of birth.

Yes, if you have seen the show then it's pretty similar.

But this book was touching, funny, and above all, fascinating.

I love memoirs especially of women doing amazing things. And these women, these nurses, nuns, and midwives did amazing things.

Honestly, give this a shot. It's a quick, heartbreaking, wonderful, and a great read.
Every bit as good as the television series! Even better, maybe, as the stories are rich with medical information and background history of midwifery and the professionalization of medicine in Europe. Plus, Chummy really was that delightful!

I was astonished by how many of the stories made it to tv nearly exactly as written. The warmth and naivete of Jenny's character in the series appears to be real. The poverty, the harsh living conditions, and the community spirit also seem to have been real. A
Feb 28, 2016 Dianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book surprised me in a good way. And who doesn't like a good surprise? This beautifully written memoir is about Jennifer Worth, who at twenty-two years of age, leaves her comfortable home (in 1957) to receive midwife training in an area of London called The Docklands, a poverty stricken slum that had been bombed during WWII, and whose buildings had been condemned. Nevertheless, people continued to live there for lack of any other place to go.

It is in this environment that Jennifer performs
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Worth, born Jennifer Lee while her parents were on holiday in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, was raised in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. After leaving school at the age of 14, she learned shorthand and typing and became the secretary to the head of Dr Challoner's Grammar School. She then trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and moved to London to receive training to become a midwife.

More about Jennifer Worth...

Other Books in the Series

The Midwife Trilogy (3 books)
  • Shadows of the Workhouse
  • Farewell to the East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives

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