Louise's Reviews > The Midwife of Venice

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
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Aug 23, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in August, 2012

Story Description:

Doubleday Canada|February 8, 2011|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-385-66827-9

At midnight, the dogs, cats, and rats rule Venice. The Ponte di Ghetto Nuovo, the bridge that leads to the ghetto trembles under the weight of sacks of rotting vegetables, rancid fat, and vermin. Shapeless matter, perhaps animal, floats to the surface of Rio di San Girolamo and hovers on its greasy waters. Through the mist rising from the canal the cries and grunts of foraging pigs echo. Seeping refuse on the streets renders the pavement slick and the walking treacherous.

It was on such a night that the men came for Hannah.

Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery. When a Christian count appears at Hannah’s door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to attend his labouring wife, who is nearing death, Hannah is forced to make a dangerous decision. Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it’s also punishable by torture and death. Moreover, as her Rabbi angrily points out, if the mother of child should die, the entire ghetto population will be in peril.

But Hannah’s compassion for another woman’s misery overrides her concern for self-preservation. The Rabbi once forced her to withhold care from her shunned sister, Jessica, with terrible consequences. Hannah cannot turn away from a labouring woman again. Moreover, she cannot turn down the enormous fee offered by the Conte. Despite the Rabbi’s protests, she knows that this money can release her husband, Isaac, a merchant who was recently taken captive on Malta as a slave. There is nothing Hannah wants more than to see the handsome face of the loving man who married her despite her lack of dowry, and who continues to love her despite her barrenness. She must save Isaac.

Meanwhile, far away in Malta, Isaac is worried about Hannah’s safety, having heard tales of the terrifying plague ravaging Venice. But his own life is in terrible danger. He is auctioned as a slave to the head of the local convent, Sister Assunta, who is bent on converting him to Christianity. When he won’t give up his faith, he’s traded to the brutish lout Joseph, who is renowned for working his slaves to death. Isaac soon learns that Joseph is heartsick over a local beauty who won’t give him the time of day. Isaac uses his gifts of literacy and poetic imagination – not to mention long-pent-up desire but to earn his day-to-day survival by penning love letters on behalf of his captor and paying illiterate public.

Back in Venice, Hannah packs her “birthing spoons” – a secret rudimentary forceps she invented to help with difficult births – and sets off with the Conte and his treacherous brother. Can she save the mother? Can she save the baby, on whose tiny shoulders the Conte’s legacy rests? And can she also save herself, and Isaac, and their own hopes for a future, without endangering the lives of everyone in the ghetto?

The Midwife of Venice is a gripping historical page-turner, enthralling leaders with its suspenseful action and vivid depiction of life in sixteenth-century Venice. Roberta Rich has created a wonderful heroine in Hannah Levi, a lioness with her the best of humanity’s compassion and courage.

My Review:

In 1575 in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice lives, Hannah Levi, a young midwife and the best and most well-known throughout the region. Her husband, Isaac, is on the island of Malta incarcerated as a slave and there is a 1500 ducat price for his release which Hannah just cannot afford.

Late one evening, a knock on her door brings her Rabbi, Ibraiham, along with a Christian nobleman by the name of, Conte Paolo di Padovani, and his brother, Jacopo. The Christians had no right whatsoever to be in the ghetto and had no right to seek Hannah’s services, but that is exactly why Padovani is there. His wife, Lucia, has been labouring for two days and two nights, the sheets soaked through with her blood, yet the baby remains unborn. He begs Hannah to come with him to help his wife but Jewish women are strictly forbidden to birth Christian babies or provide any type of medical treatment whatsoever. If Hannah agrees, not only will it be torture and death for her, but serious trouble for the entire ghetto. She would be putting herself and everyone else at risk. Not being the type of person able to refuse help nor money, Hannah strikes up a deal with Padovani and the money she earns she could use to save Isaac.

The Midwife of Venice is a page-turning, heartrending, historical debut full of suspense and romance. Roberta Rich is an up-and-coming author to watch!! I will be highly recommending this novel to everyone, excellent!!

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