Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End
by Jennifer Worth
This is the final book in Worth’s trilogy of memoirs recounting her time as a nurse/midwife in post WWII London. The first book, Call the Midwife (originally titled simply The Midwife), introduced us to the cast of characters who would populate all three books: the author’s fellow nurse/midwives as well as the Anglican nuns at the convent out of which they worked. A rich history of the people and the area of that time period is given, as well as numerous stories of births, both harrowing and joyful. The second book, Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse tells more about the Workhouses of historical England, and the people who grew up in them and how their lives were impacted.
In this final book, we bear witness to more incredible stories of birth, as well as a saga of tuberculosis
which would often wipe out entire families, and back-alley abortions sought by desperate women who already had more children than they could feed, living in poverty. Trademark to Worth’s writing is her ability to tell these stories and bring them utterly alive, and every emotion is elicited: joy, sorrow, compassion, anger, grief.
Having now read all three books, I had become quite attached to Nurse Lee and her colleagues, mentors, and patients, and I was truly sad to turn the last page. In her epilogue, Worth tells what happened to each of the main characters in the series, and sadly, most of them died by the time she had written it. Sadly, too, Worth herself died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer only two years ago. Farewell to the East End is apropos; reading this final book does feel like a farewell.
This book – and the entire trilogy – will stay with me for a long time.