Sunday, April 22, 2012 Posted by Dina N
Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers — a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. Not since The Red Tent or People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history.
The Midwife of Venice is a story of love, choices, and difficult decisions. The story is about Hannah, a Jewish midwife in 16th century Venice. Hannah is kind, smart, resourceful, and very good at her craft but she lives under the constraints of her time. She is not allowed to help Christian women, and her world is limited mostly to the Jewish ghetto. When her husband is abducted by pirates, she has to depend on others to pay his ransom. Time drags on, and to save him, Hannah takes an unthinkable risk: she agrees to help a rich Christian aristocrat in exchange of enough money to save her husband's life. Hannah is ostracized by the rabbi, blackmailed by the brothers of the rich count who comes to ask for her help, and must go to Malta to pay off her husband's ransom. Her will and character are put to the test, and Hannah finds out that doing the right thing carries a steep price. In the meantime, her husband Isaac has to make his own hard choices that can cost him not just his freedom but his life.
I enjoyed the story and the vivid depiction of life in 16th century Venice. Hannah and Isaac's love is very moving but not idealized. While there's some convenient happenstance in the timing of their respective ordeals, for me it does not diminish the enjoyment of the book.
The Midwife of Venice came out in February and is Roberta Rich's first novel. This international bestseller is a treat for fans of historical fiction and will make a great Mother's Day gift, too.
Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation was obtained for this post. Cover art and book description courtesy of the publisher or PR firm.