Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

Title: The Midwife of Venice
Author: Roberta Rich
Genre: Historical-fiction
Series: Stand-alone (?)

Paperback, 352 pages
Published on February 14, 2012 by Gallery Books (First published on January 1, 2011)

Books can be purchased here on Amazon or Book Depository 

Source: Book provided by publisher for review

Summary(via Goodreads): 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 orPeople 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.

 Review: The Midwife of Venice, tells the story of Hannah a midwife living in the Jewish ghettos in Venice 1575. Hannah is renowned for her ability to cajole babies from their mother’s womb, thinking she is exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable. What many don’t know is that she uses a special ‘birthing spoon’, which she had crafted (makeshift forceps) from her own design. If this knowledge was ever revealed, she can face charges for witchcraft. Late one night, a Christian man and his brother show up at her door in the Jewish ghettos seeking her assistance to deliver his first child. The Conte is in desperate need of an heir, and will do anything to ensure his son is born or his family inheritances will be stripped away. His wife has been bleeding to death trying to deliver their baby for two unsuccessful days. However, it is illegal for a Jew to deliver a Christian child and those who are guilty can be tortured or face a death sentence. Hannah reluctantly agrees to assist in return for enough money to free her husband Isaac, who is being held prisoner on Malta.

The book is written in third-person but the chapters alternate back and forth between Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta. I really like the way the book was formatted, readers get to see both side of the story as Hannah and Isaac do everything possible to return to one another. This was an extremely well written novel and you can tell how much research went into the book. Everything was so descriptive and realistic; it’s like a movie playing in your mind. I don’t usually read historical-fiction, but after reading the interesting synopsis, I’m glad I gave it a go. While readers get to enjoy a suspenseful novel, they will also be fascinated and somewhat disgusted to learn what it was like to be a midwife in the 16th century. The process of delivering a baby and the descriptions of complicated birth had me cringing a couple of times…kind of gruesome. Overall a great read, it had good-solid characters, and an attention-grabbing plot. This book is all about love, betrayal, faith, and the difficult choices we have to make. Highly recommended to readers of all genres.

Extra: At the beginning of the book there’s a map of 16th century Venice with important locations that take place in the book. At the end of the book, readers can also find a glossary and a reader’s group guide. I think it would have been more helpful having the glossary at the beginning, so readers know to use it while reading the book rather than after finishing.  

**Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing me with this book**

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