The Midwife of Venice

The Midwife of Venice

eBook - 2011
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"Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery. But when a Christian nobleman appears at her door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to help his wife who is dying in childbirth, Hannah's compassion is tested. Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it's also punishable by torture and death. Yet Hannah finds she cannot refuse the chance to make more money than she's ever seen in her whole life. With such a handsome sum, she could save her husband, Issaac, who months earlier was captured at sea and forced into slavery in Malta by the Knights of St. John. Aided by her forbidden "birthing spoons" - rudimentary forceps she invented to coax reluctant babies out of their mothers' wombs - Hannah agrees to assist the nobleman and attend to his ailing wife and child. Will she be able to save the mother and the baby? And if she does, will she also be able to save herself? Woven throughout Hannah's travails in Venice is the story of Isaac and his life as a slave in Malta. Fearing that Hannah has perished in plague, he pins whatever hopes he has of returning home to her on his talent for writing love letters that melt even the hardest of hearts"--
Publisher: [Toronto] :, Doubleday Canada,, [2011]
Copyright Date: © 2011
ISBN: 9780385668286
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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Aug 23, 2018

This was definitely an interesting book. It offered a tiny glimpse of what life was like for Jewish people in Venice during that time period.

At first Hannah seemed very timid and cowed by the world outside the ghetto, where she follows the Rabbi's teachings and tries to get by. But when Isaac is sold into slavery in a faraway kingdom, Hannah is left in desperation to try and raise money towards his ransom.

Isaac's story is somewhat interesting but not as captivating or outrageous as Hannah's. The blurb in the back of the book made it sound like he was really good with letters but in reality he isn't and mostly he does contracts and stuff. Bore. Moving on....

Hannah's story gets interesting when she takes a huge sum of money to help a Christian woman give birth, using her special 'spoons', which are technically forbidden and could cause her to be tried for witchcraft. Her skills help her deliver a baby, but her spoons cause a lot of problems down the road (blackmail and further entanglement into the lives of the people she tries to help). I think her sister Jessica is rather interesting and unexpected, would have liked more scenes with her.

When Hannah is able to leave Venice, her story on board the boat gets a little ridiculous and over the top. Really?! Using that method as a contraceptive?! The interactions and dealings with the muslim lady and her entourage?? Oh come on! Definitely very fantastical and not at all realistic.

Aug 22, 2017

Story line is boring. But, the historical settings and the way that the Venetians lived makes it an interesting read.

Apr 01, 2017

While the book is not accurate about aspects of the Jewish ghetto the majority of the story is engaging and a quick read with a strong and clever female lead.

May 02, 2016

Our afternoon book club gave this book a 5.6. It was a pretty even split in that half the group quite enjoyed it and the other half really didn't. Those like/dislike meetings make for great discussion!

hershnatash May 20, 2013

This book is horrible. Most of the facts about Jewish Orthodox life are completely wrong and false. For example, "shadai" is one of the many names of G-d - NOT an amulet. Jews do not put their trust in amulets - only in G-d. Also, Jews in the ghetto DID NOT speak fluent Italian. They spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. There was not even a possibility that Jews had any desire to keep contact with any non-Jews. The author did NOT do a good job on the research aspect. This story would have NEVER happened - EVER - in any kind of history (even in parallel universes).
Go read a different book

Jan 16, 2013

A good read with interesting historic perspective. The husband's side of the story is implausible, and like many good stories the end seems to get rushed together to sum it up neatly. But I still enjoyed the history, having seen this area of Vencie, it was interesting to imagine the life of the people there at that time.

VaughanPLDaniela Nov 16, 2012


Oct 21, 2012

Although I read the book in it's entirety, it was only because it was so ridiculous and improbable. I would not recommend it.

Jun 26, 2012

If you like history you'll enjoy this though it is fiction but the premise could be real although it probably wouldn't have ended so happily in real times.

BPLNextBestAdults Jun 05, 2012

Hannah is a skilled midwife living in the Jewish ghetto in 16th century Venice. Her husband has been captured at sea and living as a slave in Malta. She is desperate to bring him home, but with no money, she is unable to do so. One evening, against her Rabbi’s wishes, she agrees to help a Christian woman during a difficult birth. Hoping to pay her husband’s ransom, she has been offered a great deal of money by the woman’s distraught husband. What ensues becomes a fast-paced historical thriller, where Hannah is running for her life from people who think nothing of destroying her life and the lives of her family. Great choice for historical fiction readers.

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racing14 Jul 06, 2011

Historical novels can open windows onto the past, shedding light on parts of society previously hidden from view. Already segregated because of their religion, and with their influence kept to the private sphere, the lives of Jewish women in Renaissance Venice were more concealed than many.

In her debut novel, Roberta Rich introduces a unique heroine, and her wry humour leavens a serious subject. Not wholly an intense social drama or an over-the-top adventure, The Midwife of Venice is a quirky yet diverting blend of both.

For those looking for a meaty historical novel that leaves no loose ends, this may not be the best book to choose. But if you might like seeing Jewish folklore and Mediterranean history wrapped into a rousing story, suspend your disbelief for a time and follow along with Hannah and Isaac as they fight their way back to one another.
"Reading the Past"

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