Carrie Kellenberger's Reviews > The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
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it was amazing
bookshelves: apocalyptic, dystopian, dystopian-literature, science-fiction, feminism, favorites

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is about death, survival, lust, power, pain, hope, and hopelessness.

A woman gets sick with a high fever from an autoimmune disease, and wakes up to find the world population has been decimated. An autoimmune disease has killed 98% of Earth's population of men and 99% of Earth's population of women. There are very few children left.

Women who were pregnant when they got sick delivered stillborn babies and most women die during childbirth. There are only a handful of survivors left and the men hold all the power. The odds of surviving a pregnancy have gone to zero with no children being born in the year after the disease wiped everyone out. Women are scarce and those who have been found are chained and used for sex and breeding.

Amongst the chaos, an unnamed midwife who was a former nurse picks her way through the ruins of a world that is dead and in utter chaos. She knows instinctively that it is dangerous to be a woman right now. She does as much as possible to look like a man. She learns to move like a man, binds her chest, lowers her voice, wears men's clothing, darkens her jaw line, answers to many different names, and avoids as many people as possible.

Walk tall, keep hips straight. Don’t sway. Feet flat. Hunch a little, arms straight down. Don’t gesture. Stare down. Make fists while talking. Sit with knees apart. Adjust. Don’t tilt your head. Don’t bite your lip. Interrupt. Laugh low.

Rub jawline. Don’t look down. Stand in front of the mirror. Have a dick. Great big dick. Fear me. Always right. Kick your ass. No right to stand in my way. Who’s gonna stop me? Like that, bitch? Yeah.

Bitch, I am a man. Females. Talk too much. Quit crying. So emotional. Be a man. Man up. Nut up. Jump shot, gunshot, cum shot, money shot. Posing but not to be sexy. Scare me. Lean a little forward. Invade my space. Quit crying. Give you something to cry about.


This is one of the most interesting and absorbing books I've read in a long time. The protagonist of the story, an unnamed midwife, is a gutsy woman who only wants to survive. She doesn't want to hope, but finds that hope keeps creeping in despite the fact that she has tried her best to harden her heart against the thought of future generations.

Despite the fact that the odds are against humanity, she creates a written history of her journey in a post-apocalyptic world that will survive her for generations to come.

The main theme of The Book of the Unnnamed Midwife is seen in its emphasis on giving women birth control options and keeping them safe. One of the first things the midwife does after she leaves San Francisco is to create an arsenal of birth control. She carries as much birth control and Depo-Provera shots as she can and gives them to the leashed women she meets on the road by masquerading as a man and 'bargaining or trading' with medicine and food for sexual favors from these chained women.

When she gets them alone, she gives them birth control so that they do not get pregnant and die during childbirth or deliver stillborn babies.

Readers should know there are a lot of traumatic events that happen in this book starting with rape and murder, abuse, genital mutilation, sex trafficking, stillbirths, and more. It is a grim tale that isn't full of a lot of hope. But, there is some hope in how she survives and helps others to survive.

I loved how we got to see how gender roles play out in this book as well, since the protagonist is constantly pretending she is a man. She meets women on the road who are safe with her and as soon as they come across other men who seem friendly and open to protecting them, the women leave her to go off with their knight in shining armor, only to meet with disaster later.

Our unnamed midwife continues to avoid people in general and stays away from getting sucked into groups of people, mainly because she has good cause to be suspicious of everyone.

She is also open about her sexuality, identifying as bisexual. During her journey across the country, she also meets a few people who can be trusted and she learns that everyone reacts differently to the new world around them. These people make an impact on her life, despite her efforts to avoid human contact.

I loved the harsh, beautiful writing and realism presented in this novel. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is one of the scariest dystopian books I've read. It's also very thought-provoking and meaningful in its stark and very dark narrative.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife was one of my favorite reads of 2018. It's $3.99 on Amazon Kindle right now.

Best Takeaway Quotes

"Dusty did not want to hope. She tried to keep hope out of her, shutting all the doors and locking them with the keys of reason and evidence and precedent. Still, she could feel it seeping in, incorporeal and deathless, refusing to be refused." ~Meg Elison

"Some people had been waiting their whole lives to live lawlessly, and they were the first to take to the streets. Some people knew that would happen; they knew better than to open their doors when they heard cries of help. Others didn’t. What disease cannot do, people accomplish with astonishing ease." ~Meg Elison

“Yeah, but what if you found some people? A guy who could take care of you? He could defend you, hunt for food so you don’t have to? What are you gonna do when canned goods run out and you gotta shoot deer to live?” I just shot six guys. Did she just forget that?" ~Meg Elison

“I’m never going to get married. Neither are you. Neither are any of the brothers here, unless the missionaries bring home girls. Those kids can marry each other, have kids of their own. Nobody can get in the way of that. They’re the only thing we have that looks like a future.” His eyes blazed as the room warmed up. He closed the door to the little stove and stared her down, daring her to argue. Hidden children. Flowers in the attic." ~Meg Elison

“I would be happy to defend you ladies,” Duke said with a shine in his eyes. Every man on Earth thinks his dick is magic." ~Meg Elison

The library had been painstakingly collected and was maintained by people who cared for books beyond all things. No books could leave that building; reading could only be done there. ~Meg Elison
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Reading Progress

November 22, 2018 – Started Reading
November 22, 2018 – Shelved
November 25, 2018 – Finished Reading
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: apocalyptic
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: dystopian
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: dystopian-literature
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: science-fiction
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: feminism
December 29, 2018 – Shelved as: favorites

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