And when the war was over, and Wilbur Larch came home to St. Cloud's, Nurse Edna and Nurse Angela were already familiar with the proper language for the work of St. Cloud's - the Lord's work and the Devil's work, they called it, just to keep it straight between themselves which operation was being performed when. Wilbur Larch went along with it - it was useful language - but both nurses were in agreement with Larch: that it was all the Lord's work that they were performing.
I started reading this in Finnish, but after four chapters I decided to switch to the original English version, because some of the translated words seemed strange and the dialogue was awkward in Finnish. I'm glad I switched, because the book was much "smoother" to read in English and none of the idiosyncrasies of American culture in rural Maine in the early 20th century were lost in translation.
The Cider House Rules is a big book in many ways. It's thick and the complex plot with tens of characters spans over several decades. Many themes and topics have been crammed into the novel, but the main one is probably the right of a woman to decide whether or not she has her baby, i.e. the controversial topic of abortion.
The main character, Homer Wells, is born in the remote orphanage of St. Cloud's, somewhere in Maine. The orphanage is run by Dr. Wilbur Larch, a loving, eccentric, passionate doctor with a hopeless addition to ether. Homer Wells is the only orphan who never manages to find an adoptive home - he is "the boy who belongs to St. Cloud's" - always returning to the orphanage after unsuccessful adoption attempts. St. Cloud's remains his home and Dr. Larch becomes his father-figure/teacher as he teaches Homer the secrets of what is known as "the Lord's work" and "the Devil's work", i.e. birthing and performing abortions.
When he grows up, Homer is whisked away from the orphanage by Candy and Wally, a rich and lively couple his own age. He helps out at their apple farm, getting to know the workers and villagers, as well as the rest of the family. The three characters have a strangely interconnected relationship that does not go unaffected by World War I.
As I said, this novel is immense and near-impossible to try to sum up in a few words. Irving has done a huge amount of background research (also shown in the extensive author's notes at the end of the novel, explaining medical procedures and sources). Just like The World According to Garp, this book is easy and enjoyable to read and the characters will stay with you for a long time.
The novel has also been adapted into a successful film, directed by Lasse Hallström.
John Irving: The Cider House Rules. Black Swan. 1985.
BookReporter: The Cider House Rules
Wikipedia: The Cider House Rules