The Midwife of Venice

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The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

The Midwife of Venice is our October book for the book club I attend. We were hoping to find something Halloween related but all the kits had already been reserved. We spent quite some time sifting through the kits to try and pick one, and I’m not sure what it was that stood out for me for The Midwife of Venice. Perhaps it was the historical fiction or the mention of Venice which I long to see.

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 labouring 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.

This is the summary from the back of the book. Reading it was entirely new to me so the summary the Strathcona Library had must have been different. I would not altogether agree with the summary from the book. It gives the gist of the events in a round about way which isn’t exactly true. This may have been a ploy not to give away too much.

Hannah is a Jewish midwife in the Jewish ghetto of Venice. The birthing spoons, having been mentioned in the summary, were a contraption she created with the help of a blacksmith. Not only does she have the difficulties that came with being a woman in the 1500’s, she was Jewish and had created a device of the devil. She could have been easily labeled as a witch and killed.

Religion plays a large part in people’s lives. The people of Venice from the 1500’s seem to speak of nothing more, but this is something that has been and always will be. Hannah’s Rabi plays a large role in her live. He has always led her and has played a role in every major event in her life. Her estrangement from her sister and I would say even reuniting with her husband. Although he can be seen as protecting her, I do not view him as a “good guy” in this story. Do not mistake this as me saying that he is the villain, as there are far worse players lurking throughout.

Although I understand that times were hard and things don’t always end as they do in fairytales,there were a few things I still hoped for. There were also a few questions I had regarding a few characters and the future of things. Albeit they may have been irrelevant to Hannah and Isaac’s journey, but I am still more interested in those details than that of Hannah and Isaac’s future.

The Midwife of Venice follows Hannah as well as her husband Isaac. Both trying to get to the other and doing things they would never have done before. There are many interesting events that occur and many which could occur depending on how the author wanted the story to go. Unfortunately I found that much of the struggle was overshadowed by the convenient and abrupt ending of lives and events that made everything come together. Despite the many sorrows and hardships I feel like there was something missing and all too hastily thrown together. The ending was very open and left me unsatisfied and with further questions.

The Midwife of Venice is a decent read despite my issues with the story and would be suitable for a quick escape on vacation, without expecting any sort of literary masterpiece.

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