The Midwife of Venice Paperback – 16 Feb 2012
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"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)
A rollicking, fast-paced historical novel set against the richness and squalor of 16th-century Venice and Malta.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My principal gripe with this book is the complete lack of pace. From being summoned to an acute and urgent case, it is a mere 30 pages before we actually reach the patient, the... Read morePublished 20 months ago by J.I.S.
. I know very little about midwives and less about midwives in Venice at this time. I enjoyed some of the descriptions of Venice but found the story too unbelievable and full or... Read morePublished on 26 July 2014 by Pamela
Any book that has me reaching for it time and time again is a good read to me and I very much enjoyed this bookPublished on 2 Mar. 2014 by Thelma
Roberta Rich is a new and imaginative writer, this novel rattles along at a fast pace. The midwife of the title is a 'Jewess', and thus regarded with suspicion. Read morePublished on 13 Feb. 2014 by J. H. Trossell
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a midwife myself it was interesting to compare midwifery care then and now. Looking forward to it's sequel.Published on 24 Nov. 2013 by Samantha Golding-Mullings
I love historical novels which enable you to have an insight to another time, I particularly enjoy if you can get a sense of walking in someones else's shoes. Read morePublished on 12 Nov. 2013 by L. mckay
The book was fantastic, excellent, amazing. It moved me and it made me realise a lot, now, having coming from a background where reading books is important I have read a lot... Read morePublished on 6 Sept. 2013 by Api the reader
I bought this book mainly because I love everything about Venice. Didn't know much about the Ghetto and the rules regaring Jewish community. I did learn something new. Read morePublished on 4 Jun. 2013 by Else Grønbech