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The Midwife of Venice Paperback – 16 Feb 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (Fiction) (16 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091944902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091944902
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A lavishly detailed historical novel" (Elle Magazine)

"A lively tale involving love, blackmail, family, murder, plague, intercultural compassion, dramatic last-minute rescues and some very creative disguises . . . Rich capably depicts the strength of women and the precariousness of their lives, regardless of status or religion" (The Globe and Mail)

"A compelling and engaging novel, a well-researched high-stakes drama written with elegance and compassion: fascinating!" (Sandra Gulland)

"A meticulously researched page-turner that evokes renaissance Venice with remarkable clarity, radiance, and vigour" (William Deverell)

"Not only did Roberta Rich transport me to sixteenth-century Venice, with its seductive tapestry of smells, sights, textures and beliefs, she involved me in a poignant story of seasoned love. I don't know which I admired more - the wonderfully realized setting or the suspenseful story of Hannah and Isaac" (Katherine Ashenburg)

Book Description

A rollicking, fast-paced historical novel set against the richness and squalor of 16th-century Venice and Malta.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have a distinct penchant for historical novels set in Italy, especially those written by Sarah Dunant. Therefore I was immediately attracted by the blurb for this, Roberta Rich's debut, set in Venice in the 16th century. It was a quick, easy read but Ms Dunant has nothing to fear - her crown remains unchallenged.

It is 1575 and Venetian Jewess and midwife, Hannah Levi is much in demand for her birthing skills, particularly since she has devised a special instrument for assisting difficult births. It is forbidden for Jews to attend to the medical needs of Christians but Hannah makes an exception for the Conte di Padovani's wife - if the latter's baby dies, Hannah risks the wrath of the Christian authorities falling on all who reside in the Jewish ghetto but if it survives, she will be able to afford the ransom to release her merchant husband, Issac, from captivity in Malta.

The novel moves between 16th century Venice and Malta, detailing the twists and turns of Hannah and Issac's efforts to be reunited. The author's research is evident in the recreation of Renaissance Venice, warts and all...rotting vegetables, vermin etc...do not expect lives of the rich and famous or modesty in actions and language although occasionally the language veers on the anachronistic, clunky side.

Of the two settings, I preferred Venice although you don't get a feel for wider society beyond Hannah's limited experience other than vague mutterings about the plague and how it affected Venice. The Maltese location with hapless Issac taking centre stage has few saving graces apart from Sister Assunta, the zealous local nun, bent on converting all non-Christians.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book a most disappointing read, poorly written, badly researched with cardboard characters and with so many anachronisms it would give any reader with a little historical knowledge toothache.
To enumerate just a few, "Midwife", an English, not a continental term. Hannah's husband is supposed to have been captured by a mercenary employed by the Knights of Malta. That the Knights of the period existed by a form of piracy is a matter of record, but employing mercenaries? No. Equally, attacking a Venetian ship (Venice being the most powerful entity in the area)? No, the Knights needed good relations with the all the Christian nations surrounding them. Hannah is described at one point as donning a "Snood". In 1575 a snood was a Scottish headband denoting an unmarried girl. The "Snood", as affected by modern Jewish women, was invented ca. 1975. The Contessa is described as giving birth in a bed, no, in 1575 it would have been a birthing stool, the fashion for beds did not come in for 150/200 years. I could go on, but it would be boring, although I would advise readers to check Hannah's final statement, claiming that the Jews were better treated in Constantinople. Whilst this is broadly true, consider that all non-Muslim children were examined every 7 years and those showing good physical or mental development were separated from their families, taken to training camps in Anatolia, converted to Islam and trained to be Janissaries - the Sultans elite shock troops.
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Format: Paperback
A strange book in many respects. The subject matter-a Jew in Venice who acts as midwife to a Christian Contessa is quite a different one and I liked the cutting from the 'midwife's story' to that of her husband-a prisoner in Malta. Both stories were engaging enough although I found it quite a slight story really-birth/death/escape/reuniting, it seemed more of an idea in progress than a finished work. When I turned what proved to be the last page I thought...oh..so that's it then. The birth scenes were bloody in the extreme and went on and on, Yes, she is a midwife but does the reader constantly need to be assailed with blood and mucus? , the 'contraception scene' on board ship unbelievable and something of a contrived plot device to get Hannah what she wants. Hannah herself became something of a 'superwoman'in all the things she did (I won't spoil it)and the main crux of the story (the child) was too easily achieved. The scenes with Issac were more believable though he too had one adventure too many to be credible.The 'goodies' were too good the 'baddies' just stock caricature villains.
When reading it I thought that it was very much like a film script and interestingly enough there are questions (presumably for reading groups) at the back of the book one of which asks if the reader thinks the book would make a good film and who do you envisage in the main roles. Thankfully there were few 'Americanisms' although 'sidewalk' and 'diaper' crept in. The ending was unexpectedly hurried and left the reader to ponder what might happen to the protagonists in the years to come. All in all OK but wouldn't really recommend too highly.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I must admit, I was confused by this novel. It started well, with a richly descriptive backdrop and intriguing characters. Then the plot seemed to turn into a melodramatic soap opera filled with unbelievable turns of events and coincidences.

Hannah, a Jewish midwife, is called upon to assist with the difficult birth of a Christian noblewoman. As this contradicts the laws of time, she requests a large sum of money in return for a successful delivery. Her methods are frowned upon in her superstitious society and she risks being tried as a witch. But this is a risk she is willing to take to rescue her husband from a life of slavery.

I'd recommend this book if you enjoy historical novels requiring a huge leap of the imagination. One ridiculous scene set on board a ship had me laughing out loud whilst shaking my head in disbelief!
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