Birth Road by Michelle Wamboldt

Episodic in nature, Birth Road by Michell Wamboldt tells the story of Helen, a young woman from Truro, whose life of heartbreak and challenge will pierce your soul but her pluck and perseverance will warm your heart. Helen is based in part upon the author’s grandmother, and Birth Road tackles poverty, abuse, incest, and estrangement. Through the vignettes which make up the chapters of Birth Road, Wamboldt creates a world which tries to stomp out Helen’s spirit – and one which fails miserably. While Helen can be a frustrating character, as she’s not particularly worldly, she’s also truly endearing, with such a positive, innocent view of the world.

The novel starts with the end, with Helen leaving the house she’s staying in, putting on a coat in the summer heat to hide her pregnant stomach, and walking to the maternity home in Truro to have her baby. On that walk, she reflects on all of the things which brought her to this place: a difficult relationship with her mother, a perpetually absent father, an abusive marriage, a broken friendship, and dashed ambitions. And yet, Helen relishes this moment as the one that saved her life. Stepping back in time, Helen tells the reader about her childhood living near a logging camp; moving to Truro and meeting who would be her friend for many years, Madge; moving to Boston briefly, and then coming home. Helen is bright and longs to be a teacher, but ends up leaving school to work at Stanfield’s, the famous textile mill in Truro. Crushed by this, but determined to live a good life, she works hard and eventually meets Edgar Campbell, who would become her husband. Madge and her mother seem to love Edgar, and for some time, their marriage is happy – before his drinking escalates, and Helen starts to learn of the lies he’s told her.

Wamboldt explores the early 20th century in Nova Scotia, highlighting the limited choices Helen had at the time, and despite her relentless unluckiness, Helen is still a sweet, kind soul. This is a tender story, with a very strong narrative voice – Helen bounds onto the page with spirit and pluck, and her stories of her childhood are instantly classic. The chapters covering her childhood are so true to being a kid, and filling in the blanks of the world around you as best you can. Helen’s innocence is lovable.

Birth Road is a touching, challenging, story, but never bleak, despite the sadness of Helen’s story. The book ends with her coming back to the memory of preparing to go have her baby, as a single mother, and her hope is refreshing. This novel could have been so much darker than it was, and it’s truly because of such a brilliant protagonist. This is lovely, and Wamboldt’s telling of Helen’s story in chunks works so well, since that’s how we tend to remember our lives. A lovely debut novel.

(Note: an interview with Michelle Wamboldt can be read here.)

Michelle Wamboldt was born and raised in Truro, Nova Scotia as were her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. A graduate of Dalhousie University and the Humber School of Journalism in Toronto, Michelle’s writing career has been as a journalist and communications consultant. Her fiction has appeared in the Dalhousie Review. Michelle lives on the South Shore of Nova Scotia where she and her husband raised their two sons. She is currently working on her second novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (April 7 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774710404
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774710401

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.