Kat's Reviews > The Midwife of Venice

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
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's review
Apr 25, 2012

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Read from April 25 to 29, 2012

Gallery Books sent me a copy of Roberta Rich's THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE for review and I am grateful they did, I probably wouldn't have picked this wonderful book up on my own. I read it on a plane ride across country and couldn't pry my eyes from its pages the entire six hour flight.

Perhaps the main reason I couldn't pry my eyes from THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE is because this story is one big car wreck on the side of the road waiting to be rubber necked. No, not to say it's poorly written, it's lavishly detailed and rich with Italian and Jewish traditions, but Lordy... the main character, Hannah, goes from the frying pan into the fire again and again, from one chapter to the next!

Rich begins with Hannah a midwife in the Jewish ghetto of Venice who is approached one night by a noble Christian with an ailing wife who'd been trying to give birth, to no avail, for two agonizing nights. Hannah is known for her skill at delivering babies, but it is forbidden that a Jew should deliver a Christian child. Initially, she refuses, but upon further reflection, and some moral turmoil over turning her back on a woman in need, Hannah decides to barter her services for enough money to pay her husband's release from slavery in Malta. Of course, there's nothing simple about sneaking in, delivering a baby, and sneaking home... especially when there's a family rivalry to complicate the matter.

THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE is the incredibly moving and fast paced story of a woman doing the best she can to attain happiness with the odds against her time and time again. I felt for Hannah, she struggles with reconciling what's "right" with what's "moral" and what will allow her to survive. Rich does a good job of exploring the perks and drawbacks of both Christianity and Judaism by contrasting their many beliefs and traditions and contextualizing them in believable human situations. But all that aside, at the very core of this story is a theme about motherhood: what does it mean to be a mother? Giving birth? Raising a child? Aiding in delivering a child? mothering a loved one? Adopting? At the very least, you'll put this book down thanking your lucky stars you never had to give birth in the 1500s, yikes!

Happy Mother's Day.

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