Cover image for Hummingbird house
Hummingbird house
Henley, Patricia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Denver, CO : MacMurray & Beck, [1999]

Physical Description:
326 pages ; 24 cm

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When Kate Banner, an American midwife in Nicaragua, loses another patient -- a young Nicaraguan woman who had given birth only the night before on the bottom of a swamped wooden boat -- she knows it is time to go home. Because to care for the children of war, you have to cut off pieces of your heart. But traveling home leads her to Guatemala, where even children sometimes disappear. Patricia Henley's Hummingbird House is a devastatingly powerful and emotionally trustworthy story of a human heart unbinding itself in the most unjust of worlds.

Author Notes

Patricia Henley teaches in the M.F.A. Creative Writing Program at Purdue University and lives in Indiana.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

For more than 20 years, over half her life, nurse-midwife Kate Banner and her oldest friend, Maggie Byrne, have been living and working in Central America, tending to the women and children who are victims of the ongoing wars. In the early 1980s, after a devastating death and the end of a love affair, Kate decides to leave Nicaragua for Guatemala, the first step on the road home to Indiana. There, in the face of the increased violence, she finds comfort in the love she feels for eight-year-old Marta, whose brother is one of the many "disappeared" children, and Father Dixie Ryan, a radicalized Catholic priest who came to Guatemala to help the people in their struggles to survive tragedy and make a better life for themselves. Henley has written a strongly political first novel that avoids being merely a polemic only because she has managed to make Kate a sympathetic, believable character, whose thoughts and reactions seem both honest and realistic. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)1878448870Nancy Pearl

Publisher's Weekly Review

To be strong enough for the path she's chosen, 42-year-old American midwife Kate Banner, the protagonist of this moving novel, must "cut off pieces of her heart." Her three-week visit to Mexico during the 1980s becomes an eight-year Central American sojourn once she witnesses the poverty and war-torn devastation of the people she encounters and decides to help. She delivers babies and administers basic medicine at an makeshift clinic, and travels, passionately but somewhat aimlessly, from Mexico to Nicaragua to Guatemala. She moves through the countrysides both with and without her compadres, a group of mostly North American activists, including the lover who soon leaves her and a priest whose love for Kate makes him question his vows. After experiencing many tragic losses, Kate occasionally wrestles with the notion of returning home to Indiana, but her heart (however assaulted) lies with the native peoples and their struggles. Her sacrifices achieve meaning when a collectively imagined school/clinic for destitute Guatemalan children becomes a very real possibility. And when Hummingbird House is established, Kate is satisfied she has helped make one lasting contribution to a community despite all she has lost, including, she laments, her youth. This first novel by short story writer (The Secret of Cartwheels) and poet (Back Roads) Henley is darkly atmospheric, with fluent dialogue and an assured prose style. Numerous subplots, though clearly heartfelt and informative, sometimes detract from Kate's centrality. The prismatic trajectory of the tale may be deliberate, for the author's message is double-edged: that trying for a better world is necessary, demanding work, but no one can save herself through saving the world. Kate's tale rings true in her realistic conclusion that gross injustice calls for more than merely sorrow, but also rage, sacrifice and the ability to simultaneously love and lose. (Apr.) FYI: A portion of the author's royalties will be donated in support of human rights worldwide. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved