Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Historical Fiction: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
Date: January 2011
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: four days
From 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.
My review: This is one of the most engaging historical novels I've read in a long time. There's rarely a slow moment and never a dull one in what is a surprisingly exciting historical book. I loved the blend of settings and characters - readers are introduced to a diverse array of Jews, courtesan ex-Jews, wealthy Venetians, slaves, "New Christians," and Maltese society as the setting alternates between the ghetto and canals of Venice and the docks and markets of Malta.
The amount of romance in the novel is tasteful and doesn't try to override the historical and midwifing aspects of the book. I found Hannah to be a bit naive for someone who is in her thirties, dealing with religious conflicts and prejudice, and quite knowledgeable in medicine, but otherwise she is a very likable character whose actions and motivations are easily understood. If the sequence of events seemed a little bit unbelievable in the second half of the book, the sense of action and suspense more than made up for it. I was surprised at how fast I was able to breeze through the book, and I usually skip-read ahead when I ran out of reading time and just had to find out what happened next!