Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
Published: January 1, 2011
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 352
Received: from publisher (Simon & Schuster) for honest review

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.

 I was asked to review this book in time for Mother's Day and at first I didn't understand the reasoning for it other than the book being about a midwife who delivers babies. I was totally wrong - this book is so much more and it is very much a great book  for Mother's Day as you will see during my review.

Hannah Levi is an amazing character in this book - she goes from being a quiet Jewess who follows all the rules and keeps to herself and becomes this woman who is determined to do anything to ransom her husband. She becomes quite a headstrong woman and I loved the transformation.

Hannah is a midwife in the ghetto's of Venice. She is known for abilities to coax babies from their mothers who would otherwise be left for dead by other midwives. She has a secret to her magical way of helping mothers in distress - her birthing spoons (similar to our modern day forceps). No one knows of these spoons as she would be called out as a witch if it were common knowledge. So Hannah keeps to herself and goes about her work as quietly as possible so as not to attract attention to herself - which is why her husband calls her his little ghetto mouse.

The story is written from two points of view, Hannah and Isaac. It flips back and forth between the two and helps us to see what is happening for each of them during their time apart. Hannah's sections were filled with high emotions and hard choices for her survival - she chooses to deliver a Christian baby in order to receive enough funds to ransom her husband, but along the way she let's her heart being taken captive by the little Christian baby she helps to deliver. Though this child is not her own and is born of a different religion, she has this motherly instinct to help protect him when things go terribly wrong. While Isaac's story is of a different sort of survival. He has been captured and is now being used as a slave until his ransom can be paid. He is very smart uses his best abilities to ensure that he will live a little longer than intended for him.

Hannah is accused of being a witch after her birthing spoons are found during the delivery of the little Christian baby. The story turns into one of survival - she must save her life and still try to reach her husband in time to save his. It was amazing how her life changes so quickly in such a short time, but Hannah shows us what love and determination can do in the face of adversity. In the end Hannah is the epitome of wife and mother, and new beginnings are in her future.

I'm not a religious person at all and this story does have some religious undertones, featuring 16th century Italian laws of the Jews and the Christians. I found the information provided about the two faiths to be fascinating. It was nice to see that some people did not care about faith when it comes down to it, people are what matters, not faith. And the history that is written into this novel was perfect - it didn't overwhelm you with too much detail, but just enough to convey what it would have been like to live in the ghetto of Venice during these times.

I truly would recommend this book to people who love a book with history, a flicker of romance and adventures of the most emotional kind. 

About the author:
I was born on January 9th. Not the best time to be born if your birthplace happens to be the buckle on the snow belt, Buffalo, New York. Buffalo remained my home until I struck out on my own and managed to get 73 miles down the New York State Freeway to Rochester. My life took a turn for the better- better climate, better opportunities.
Writers of a certain vintage always seem to boast of the variety of interesting jobs they held before settling down to write. Jobs like fire breather on the Reforma in Mexico City, or turkey plucker. I have not done anything so exotic. Moving from present to past, I have been: a divorce lawyer, student, waitress, nurses’ aide, hospital admitting clerk, factory assembly line worker and child.

I live in Vancouver, B.C. and in Colima, Mexico. I have one husband, one daughter, three step-children, a German Shepherd, tropical fish and many over sexed parakeets. When in Mexico, I nurture my husband, and my vanilla vines. When in Vancouver I try to keep dry


  1. I seriously enjoyed this book - especially Isaac's story.

    1. Wasn't it completely interesting? I love learning about different places, people and times. :)

  2. PS - You are the blog of the week over at my blog. Check it out:

    1. Thanks Dana! What a lovely surprise! :)


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