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Book Review: The Midwife of Venice
Roberta Rich’s riveting first novel, set in late 16th-century Venice, draws the reader into a complex world where deep-rooted religious tensions inhibit displays of compassion and tolerance between Christians and Jews, and turn ordinary events into matters of great peril, especially for the Jewish community. The story is filled with suspense as Hannah Levy, a skilled Jewish midwife, renowned in the ghetto, is drawn into a dangerous and illegal act — delivering the unborn child of a Christian nobleman’s dying wife. She risks accusations of witchcraft and an horrific death at the hands of Christian Inquisitors if she is discovered to have attended the birth. However, in spite of her rabbi’s warnings, Hannah agrees to assist in return for sufficient funds to ransom Isaac, her husband, who has been captured and enslaved in Malta by a corrupt and predatory band of Maltese Knights.
Writing with impressive historical and cultural insight, former Vancouver lawyer Rich creates vibrant images of Venetian society in 1575. From the compelling realism of Hannah’s use of “birthing spoons,” crafted to aid in difficult deliveries, to the menacing presence of the nobleman’s brothers, and Isaac’s inventive schemes to escape from Malta, virtually every chapter is a cliffhanger.
— Marjorie Mitchell
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Price: $22.95; Page count: 329