I wanted to read this book from the moment I first saw it when my class went to Random House on a field trip last summer. It was on display in the board room, and I had a few moments to flip through it and mentally add it to my long list of books to read. The Midwife of Venice is the debut novel by Roberta Rich and is published by Random House Canada. The story follows Hannah Levi, a young woman living in the Jewish Ghetto of sixteenth-century Venice. She is renowned for her skill as a midwife, so much so that late one night a Christian Conte comes knocking at her door, seeking her out to help his labouring wife. It is illegal for a Jew to give medical care to a Christian, the punishment being death, but the man is desperate to save his dying wife and Hannah's compassionate nature, combined with an opportunity for rich payment, wins out. Her beloved husband Issac has been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Malta, the money could be enough to pay off his ransom.
And this is only the beginning of the gripping story as Hannah finds herself entangled in the dangerous affairs of the affluent Christian family she agrees to help. Throw in an outbreak of plague, the safety of the entire Jewish ghetto and the matter of securing Issac's freedom, and you have an amazing historical page-turner.
I was positive I was going to like this book, I love historical fiction and I have always been drawn to books where midwifery is featured prominently. The Midwife of Venice did not disappoint. Hannah is a wonderful protagonist; she is fierce and determined but is still very human. She is motivated by her love for Issac and her sense of right and wrong; Rich does an amazing job of creating a strong female character who is still very much a woman of her time. In historical fiction, I find it can often be tricky to get the balance right but Hannah is perfect. I really connected with her and cared deeply about the outcome of the story. The novel also follows Issac in Malta, detailing his time working as a slave and devising his escape so he can return to Hannah. The love between these two characters is palpable without becoming hokey, and for me it was the glue that held the story together.
The Midwife of Venice is a fantastic combination of excellent prose and great readability; it's a fast-paced novel full of action and excellent detail of sixteenth-century Venetian life. There were certain aspects of the story that I felt could have been fleshed out a little bit more, but my enjoyment of reading this book far surpassed any small criticisms I might have had. If you are a fan of historical novels then you must read this book; it would also be the perfect choice for someone who is curious about historical fiction but doesn't know where to start.
All in all, a thoroughly satisfying read.
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