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The Birth of Love

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  199 ratings  ·  43 reviews
From the winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, an epic novel of childbirth--past, present, and future

The year is 1865. In Vienna, Dr. Ignasz Semmelweiss has been hounded into an asylum by his medical peers, ridiculed for his claim that doctors' unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. In present-day London, Bridget Hughes juggles her young son, husband,
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Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by Metropolitan Books (first published 2010)
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The Panopticon by Jenni FaganA Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu GuoThe Liars' Gospel by Naomi AldermanThe Teleportation Accident by Ned BeaumanThe Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
Granta Best of Young British Novelists 4
5th out of 20 books — 5 voters
The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy HollingsworthThe Anatomy of Hope by Jerome GroopmanThe Faith Club by Ranya Tabari IdlibyLove by Leo BuscagliaA Break with Charity by Ann Rinaldi
Seven Virtues
96th out of 100 books — 2 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 681)
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Celeste McLean-Cote
I'm giving this book a generous rating of two stars as an average. Broken into two pairs of loosely related stories, the book in its entirety deals with the processes of birth. Three of the stories deal specifically with childbirth and one of them with the birthing process of artistic creation, as an author struggles with the aftermath of having published one of the other stories in the book. Incidentally, the "book" that the fictional writer had just published was my favorite of the four storie ...more
Arielle Walker
I really was not a fan of this. Though I thought the physical writing was not bad, the actual stories completely failed to grasp me, aside from the futuristic one which was not developed nearly enough. If the entire book had been about the prisoners, with only a few mentions of how the other stories may have related, then I may actually have enjoyed reading The Birth of Love.

It really didn't help that the meticulously described account of an incredibly painful and distressing labour not only to
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Misha
Firstly, a huge congrats to the author, Joanna Kavenna. The Birth of Love is on the 2011 Orange Prize Longlist. You can view the entire list HERE

The Birth of Love involves four stories entwined into one stunner of a novel. One of the most original novels I have read recently, it's scary, thought-provoking and powerful. Part dystopia, part historical fiction and overall, a celebration of motherhood through the centuries. Despite some flaws, it's a very memorable book.

In 1865 Vienna, Professor Se
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Elizabeth
Sep 06, 2010 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: moms who have been there and done that
Shelves: 2010
I can't recall how I came across this book but I'm glad I did. 4 stories all involving childbirth and/or love loss. The story of a Dr. in 19th century Vienna that goes insane while trying to convince doctors to wash their hands before examining women during child birth; the modern day reclusive author who is writing the story of this Viennese doctor; the modern day woman in London giving birth at home and finally the future story, where there are only egg and sperm donors. the stories only inter ...more
Elaine
May 22, 2011 Elaine rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
While each of the voices and narratives was interesting at the beginning, nothing actually happened in any of them, and the predominant note of each one was repetition and mood more than narrative. The book's ideas were more schematic than woven into the plot. In particular, the sci fi plot seemed totally half-hearted as narrative yet polemical and also annoyingly written (we get the point -- family is a bad word in 2153!!). Disappointing.
Gwynne
One of my new favorite writers! However, her description of giving birth did not endear me to the process of expelling a baby from my nether regions. Great writing, though, and inventive cross-cutting between stories.
Allyson
I loved her first book- The Ice Museum and while not having read Inglorious, saw this @ the library, so brought it home.
I liked her writing style, and the ideas of portraying the changes in thought surrounding childbirth were interestingly depicted, yet it did not grip me. It felt too disengaged or flat, not warmly inviting which sounds weird but I would not necessarily recommend it to my friends. Also the birthing process was vividly but distressingly presented.
On the whole, disappointing desp
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Stephanie
I picked this up off the "Hot New Titles" shelf at the library. This is a book I definitely judged by the cover. A silhouette of a pregnant woman and the word "birth" in the title? Totally up my alley, right? Wrong. This was a strange story with four different plots weakly woven together by poorly developed characters. The only reason I gave it two stars instead of one is that I actually did make it through the entire thing, which is worth a star all its own.
Patrick
Despite the fact that it is surely one of the most important events in a person’s life, as far as I know there aren’t very many novels written about the actual experience of giving birth. Often it’s a thing that happens in a book for plot reasons, or it is portrayed as a momentous occasion that’s soon over and rarely dwelled upon in detail. This book is quite different to all that, and for that reason alone I think it’s worth reading. It’s ambitious, unusual, sad, affecting, occasionally quite f ...more
Penny
This is really, really good. It reminded me a bit of 'Cloud Atlas' (in that is interweaves several stories), but I think this is better. I found the 'link' between the stories in Cloud Atlas a bit forced.
Jessi
First Line: "The year is 1865 and Ignaz Semmelweis is dragged along the corridor though he struggles violently, kicks and shouts."

I read this in conjunction with a biography of Semmelweis, the man who first discovered that the disease called Childbed Fever was contagious and that epidemics of the diease in hospitals were caused by doctors dissecting corpses and then examining women in labor and that it could be stopped by washing hands, although his discovery was completely disregarded for sever
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Jason
One of the characters in The Birth of Love says, "'Men are unlikely to read a book about childbirth. It's unfortunate, but there's not much to be done.'" And by the time I had finished the book I wondered if that sentence shouldn't also apply to women.

This novel contains four interrelated and alternating stories: one set in Vienna in 1865, two set in the present (one about a pregnant woman giving birth and one about the writer of the first story), and finally a story set in 2153, which we learn
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Isabel
Woah. This is a weird one. It is well written and the urgency of tone forced me to power through, even though the characters weren't that gripping. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the jacket write-up talks about 3 perspectives, when there are actually 4. There are lots of complicated details I'd have to reread the book in order to work out. Several mother characters; authority issues; alienation; lack of mental control due to drugs, drink or exhaustion... Each of the characters seemed ...more
Ryandake
urk. what a missed opportunity.

this book is all about birth past, present, and future. it's a vastly underexplored part of the human experience in literature--in most books babies appear off-stage, as it were. there's some literature about the aftermath--new mom & baby experiences--but these tend either toward the overly-sunny (isn't baby great!) to the grisly (baby is a horror of time-suck). still, not much out there about birth itself.

the first of three parts of this book examines the madn
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Anna
Considering the fact that birth is kind of significant to this little thing we call human existence, there is a surprisingly small number of novels on the subject. When birth has been included as a major plot point in fiction, it usually means one of two things: the woman in question either got knocked up by someone unfortunate or she is about to die. And sometimes it's a combination of the two. This dearth of literature about maternity is probably related to the fact that most novels published ...more
Ally Atherton
This book takes the reader into the lives of four main characters in different places and at different times. In Vienna in 1865 a doctor is locked up in a mental asylum after discovering that women are dying in childbirth due to inadequate handwashing techniques. In the present day Michael has written the story of this same Doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, and it has become his first published book. But he is struggling to come to terms with how this has affected his life and he is forced to re-examine ...more
Shahad Abdullah
I really loved this book although it was not what I expected it to be at all. The vivid emotions described in it really moved me, especially since I have never read anything that portrayed maternity, and this was a whole novel that is dedicated for that sole purpose.

It is set on 3 time periods, the past, the present and the future. It had some real facts when the narrative was in the past, which is something I quite enjoyed, but I disliked the present; the plot was a bit weak since it was only a
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Sophie
Stunning. Four powerful interconnected stories exploring the strangely still taboo subject of birth.
gwen
Really cool concept, with three separate strands of stories -- one over 100 years ago, about a doctor in a lunatic asylum; one in present day, about a mother giving birth to her second child; one far in the future, about escapees from a society that controls childbirth. I loved the way the stories connected, but they all felt a little flat and disengaged. The concept was better than the writing. Still, a quick read, good for a long airplane ride.
Buried In Print
This review was deleted following Amazon's purchase of GoodReads.

The review can still be viewed via LibraryThing, where my profile can be found here.

I'm also in the process of building a database at Booklikes, where I can be found here.

If you read/liked/clicked through to see this review here on GR, many thanks.
Christine Morton
four stories in one, but the best is the account of Ignaz Semmelweis after he is institutionalized for daring to promote his views that fellow physicians were the cause of childbed fever by not washing their hands between cadaver and laboring women checks. the chapter on the modern London woman anticipating labor is also very good. the book's other two stories are less compelling and weakly connected to the core.
Carly
I was intrigued that this book was set 100 years ago, today, and years into the future. However, I found the number of characters confusing and I struggled to connect with one specific. I didn't feel as though the resolution was satisfactory either. On a positive note, I enjoyed analyzing it later... though I would have enjoyed it more with an English teacher.
Elizabeth Moffat
This is a really interesting book to review. Its a few stories that are all inter-linked by the subject of mothers and birth. I did enjoy two stories more than the others, hence the three star rating. Also, as someone without children at the moment, some parts were incredibly scary - hope I'm not put off for life!(joke)
Greta
May 28, 2011 Greta rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Greta by: Ruth via http://www.citizenreader.com/
Shelves: fiction
After a lively discussion about the book and my realization that I originally rated it based on my dislike for the whiny, neurotic characters and a portion of Sci-Fi which I detest, I am upgrading my rating to reflect that there actually was more to this book than I was able to see at first read.
Aruna Kumar Gadepalli
Probably one tough book that I could finish don't get me wrong, I am talking about the quality of the book is really high for me. There are four different narratives which are linked to the main theme. Till the last page the book is interesting.
Andria
This book held my interest pretty well - mostly I think cause I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I'm not sure I would wholly recommend it, but I was driven to finish it, and intrigued by the characters
Baljit
A novel that explores a very unique subject-birth- from 3 different angles; 19th century Vienna, contemporary London and a dystopian future. Thw writer explore the conflictiong emotions that surround the birth of our young.
Valley Cottage Library
SUMMER READING CLUB: "The joys and perils of childbirth and pregnancy- past, present and future. It's scary that many of the books about the future show how dehumanized our society is expected to become."
Jill
A good premise but poorly written. The title of misleading,and the story is dark. The 3 different story lines minimally fit together and parts are very contrived. Would not recommend this book to anyone.
Erin
Two of the four plotlines were interesting, but Michael Stone's and Sammuelweiz's fell flat for me. As someone who has never given birth, this book freaked me out a bit.
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Joanna Kavenna is a prize-winning British novelist and travel writer.

Kavenna spent her childhood in Suffolk and the Midlands as well as various other parts of Britain. She has also lived in the United States, France, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic States.

These travels led to her first book, The Ice Museum, which was published in 2005. It was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award in that
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More about Joanna Kavenna...
Inglorious Come to the Edge The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule Venid hasta el borde, les dijo Arc 2.2: Chromewash

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