#aww2018 “Catherine has one son and 35000 daughters.” // Review of “The Hospital by the River” by Doctor Catherine Hamlin

Title: The Hospital  by the River
Author: Dr Catherine Hamlin
Audio book narrator:
Kate Hood
Dates read: 09/01/18 – 26/01/18
Rating: ★★★★


The quote at the top of this review is not one from the book, as I usually do with reviews. Actually, I forgot to bookmark any. The quote is something Dr Hamlin’s son, Richard, said at her 90th birthday party, and it is absolutely true.

In 1959, Reg and Catherine Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia with the six-year-old son to being an OB/GYN and midwifery school in Addis Ababa. After realising the sheer numbers of women in Ethiopia who suffer from a traumatic childbirth-related injury, obstetric fistula, the Hamlins made it their life’s work to cure as many women as possible.  This led to the opening of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which has now been operating for nearly 50 years.

I have to admit that there were times when this book challenged me a bit. In terms of personal values, Catherine and I are quite different. What I perceive as the great social movements of the 60s, Catherine viewed as degeneracy and worried for her son, whom she expected would finish his schooling in England. Catherine, a staunch Christian, does not believe in abortion; I do (and I’m rather of the opinion that religious beliefs shouldn’t get in the way of your medical profession). And yet, the great work that the Hamlins have done in Ethiopia tends to outweight all of that, proving that someone can have different values to you and still be a wonderful person.

It was quite fascinating to also learn about medical history, particularly the evolution of the fistula repair surgery, as wel as the history of Ethiopia. I had no idea that Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of famed suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, had spent  much of her life campaigning for women in Ethiopia.

Some of the writing of the book seemed a bit choppy. It felt as though all the chapters had been written in isolation to one another,  and that no one had tidied them up later. A medical procedure would be described in detail in one chapter, and then described again almost verbatim later. There were other smaller statements that would also feel a tad repetitive throughout the book. It also bothered me that there wasn’t any consistency regarding the plural of fistula: both fistulas and fistulae got used. I’m not sure if there was a reason for that; if so, it wasn’t explained and it felt a bit choppy.

Still, if you can put up with that, and are interested in any of the subject matter, then there’s a very good chance you will enjoy this book.

This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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