"The Midwife of Venice" by Roberta Rich

Hannah Levi is a midwife known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill and bedside manner.  In the Jewish ghetto where she lives, women turn to her for the births, especially for her “birthing spoons” which she developed to help difficult births.  

One night, a Christian count appears at her door with the Rabbi.  The Conte's wife is in labour and near death and he believes that Hannah is the only one who can help her.  It is illegal for Jews to give medical treatment to Christians but the Conte is offering Hannah a lot of money, enough money to pay the ransom for her husband Isaac who has been auctioned as a slave in Malta.

Hannah attends the birth but in doing so she brings upon herself the wrath of the Conte’s treacherous brother.  As she seeks shelter with her sister Jessica who has been shunned from the Jewish community, she tries desperately to save not only the life of her husband but her own.

The Midwife of Venice is the first in a historical fiction series by Roberta Rich.  It is a story of courage set against a beautiful and vibrant historical setting.  Readers will find themselves swept up in the setting and story of this page-turner.

This is a novel that at first glance I probably would have passed over.  However, I read it as part of Retreat by Random House’s book club and I am glad it had me reading this.  As the book moves back and forth between Venice and Malta readers are treated to a novel rich in detail and backdrop.  You feel transported to another time, though the story is still relatable enough to our present time.

This book comes across as being very well researched and having participated in the online book club which Ms. Rich attended, I learned that this is the truth.  You can see her own photos of the Ghetto Nuovo on her website, which is incredible for those who have not been there.  It really brings the pages of the book to life even more.

My only criticism of the book is that while the action kept the book moving from beginning to the end, at times I felt like it moved a little too fast.  A few things could have been explained a bit more, time didn’t need to jump as fast as it did.  It seemed like it all wrapped up a little too quick and a bit too neat in the end.  But that didn't take away from the plot or the action.

I think this is a great book for those people who may think that they’re not really into historical fiction.  It is a fast-paced, modern novel set in an interesting and enthralling time and place.  And if you enjoy this one, you’ll love the fact that it is the first in a series of three and the second book has just been released!


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