The Midwife of Venice

The Midwife of Venice

4.0 88
by Roberta Rich

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Not since Anna Diamant’s The Red Tent or Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history. A “lavishly detailed” (Elle Canada) debut that masterfully captures


Not since Anna Diamant’s The Red Tent or Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history. A “lavishly detailed” (Elle Canada) debut that masterfully captures sixteenth-century Venice against a dramatic and poetic tale of suspense.

Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers using her secret “birthing spoons.” When a count implores her to attend his dying wife and save their unborn son, she is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but his payment is enough to ransom her husband Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can she refuse her duty to a woman who is suffering? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the child and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. Told with exceptional skill, The Midwife of Venice brings to life a time and a place cloaked in fascination and mystery and introduces a captivating new talent in historical fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her U.S. debut, Rich successfully captures the seedy side of 16th-century Venice—the Jewish ghetto, the plague, the confluence of religious and legal authority—but stumbles with unevenly rendered main characters. Hannah, a midwife, and Isaac Levi are Venetian Jews. Isaac, a trader, is captured at sea and held for ransom in Malta by the Knights of St. John. Hannah is legally forbidden to treat Christians, but as a healer—and a woman suddenly in need of money—she cannot refuse the request of a high-born Venetian to help his wife give birth. Though she delivers the baby safely, the infant faces mortal danger and Hannah’s involvement deepens, leaving her susceptible to charges of murder and witchcraft. To evade authorities, she must rely on her estranged sister, a courtesan. Meanwhile, Isaac languishes on Malta. His kidnappers sell him as a slave to a nun, who in turn sells him to a brutish peasant. Using his wits to survive (selling his writing skills and helping woo a beautiful woman), he escapes captivity, but his and Hannah’s harrowing efforts to reunite are stymied at every turn. Both characters demonstrate intelligence, but only Isaac comes to full life: his thoughts, feelings, humor, and behavior leap off the page. Agent: Beverly Slopen, the Beverly Slopen Agency. (Apr.)
Joy Fielding
"An engrossing, well-written, and fast-paced story about a fascinating period in history. The descriptions of sixteenth century Venice were so vivid, they were almost tangible."
Sandra Gulland
"A compelling and engaging novel, a well-researched high-stakes drama written with elegance and compassion: fascinating!"
William Deverell
"A meticulously researched page-turner that evokes renaissance Venice with remarkable clarity, radiance, and vigour."
From the Publisher
“Rich skillfully incorporates a wealth of historical detail into her riveting tale of a heroine who won't give up on her marriage.”—Chicago Tribune

"Riveting and compulsively readable,The Midwife of Venice combines fast- paced adventure with richly evocative historical writing." —

“A cliffhanger-strewn debut … breathless historical adventure.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Successfully captures the seedy side of 16-century Venice." — Publishers Weekly

"Rich’s fascinating historical details and her warm empathy for her protagonists will capture historical fiction fans and readers who enjoyed Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent." —Library Journal

“By definition, novels set in Venice must exude atmosphere, and this one positively drips with it. …Rich capably depicts the strength of women and the precariousness of their lives.” —The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The Midwife of Venice is one of the best novels to be written in the genre of historical fiction since The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” —

Katherine Ashenburg
"Not only did Roberta Rich transport me to sixteenth-century Venice, with its seductive tapestry of smells, sights, textures and beliefs, she involved me in a poignant story of seasoned love. I don't know which I admired more—the wonderfully realized setting or the suspenseful story of Hannah and Isaac."
Historical Novel Society
"A beautifully conceived debut novel... A finely drawn plot with well-developed characters to
whom the reader feels a deep connection. Historical fact is well preserved in the fictional story, and it seems clear that Rich herself feels an abiding connection with that story and her characters. The pages fly by as we too connect deeply with Hannah and Isaac. A highly recommended novel."
Kirkus Reviews
It's one crisis after another for a 16th-century Italian-Jewish midwife and her merchant husband struggling to be reunited. Religious persecution, sexism, pestilence and murderous, scheming siblings are just a few of the hurdles confronting Hannah Levi and her husband Isaac in Canadian-based Rich's cliffhanger-strewn debut. Key events have happened before the story opens, giving the novel the feel of a sequel: Isaac, who gambled his fortune on a shipment of silk, was captured by mercenaries and is now a slave in Malta; Hannah's sister, a convert to Christianity, is working as a courtesan; and Hannah herself has become "the best midwife in Venice, Christian or Jew," having invented forceps, the use of which risks accusations of witchcraft. When a Christian nobleman implores Hannah to help deliver his son and heir, she does so in defiance of her rabbi in order to raise Isaac's ransom money. The baby is born, but the forceps are stolen by the nobleman's wicked brother from whom she must also rescue the kidnapped child before masquerading as a plague victim to avoid further threats. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Isaac is being starved and beaten in Malta where, after multiple plot twists, the story screeches to a breathless halt. Overstuffed is an understatement for this heavily researched but lightweight historical adventure.

Product Details

Gallery Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Roberta Rich divides her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Colima, Mexico. This is her first novel.

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The Midwife of Venice 4 out of 5 based on 3 ratings. 88 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
The Midwife of Venice is one of the best novels I’ve read. It is no wonder it became an International Bestseller. The novel is beautifully written; its simplicity makes it delightful to read and allows the reader to immerse themselves completely into the story seamlessly. There are numerous novels written with Venice as a backdrop, but author Roberta Rich sweeps us into a lesser known and darker side of the city’s majestic history – the plight of the Jews who lived there. In a city that was famous for its port and used to exotic people and trade, it caught me by surprise how racist and prejudiced the people were against the Jews at the time. Not only did the author do a great deal of research into Venice and its historical details, she also delved into the ancient skills and beliefs of midwifery. Kidnapping, murder, superstition, birthing spoons, and the plague grace the pages of this exciting new novel. The heroine is likeable and believable, but more importantly, fascinating. There are tragic scenes along with joyous ones as the story takes you from one event to another. There is never a moment of boredom. The pace is quick, the story unencumbered with too much narrative or description. For me, this book is a definite keeper and now sits on my shelf along with my other most cherished books. I highly recommend it, for it is sure to please!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I worked in obstetrics for 25 years and generally find any fiction novel having to do with deliveries of babies entertaining. I'm over half way through with this book, trying to stick with it, but I can't waste my time anymore. It is set in such a dark, dismal time and place! Nothing is uplifting. There are countless Italian places named and phrases which are rarely explained, and do not add to the story's interest. I read to be entertained, and this is definitely not entertaining!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I read a book with Midwife in the title, I expect a lot of birth drama, and stories of women and babies. This book had one main birth, the rest of the drama was about the midwife's husband and sister. It was still interesting, but some of the twists and turns in the book were very unrealistic. I was looking more for a realistic story of the women of the 1600's.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very disappointing. The plot is contrived to move the story along. The characters are very black-and-white with no depth. The freedom of thought and movement exercised by the main character (the midwife) is not convincingly supported given that the story is set in the 16th century. Overall, I was sorry I spent the time and money to read this. If you liked the description of this book (story, time, setting), try "The Mistress of the Art of Death" by Ariana Franklin instead. Much better story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This doesn't deserve even ONE star. This book is horrible. Most of the facts about Jewish Orthodox life are completely wrong and false. How do I know? I am an Orthodox Jew myself. 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
aquaria More than 1 year ago
" The Midwife of Venice" was okay but it could have been so much better seeming like an outline for a real historical novel, you know, the kind that offer history, descriptions of settings, etc., subtle explanations of unmodern behavoirs, and so on, the kind of descriptions that give a vivid sense of place and time. Italy was soooo intriguing in this time period with beautiful art and architecture and most of that was just left out.If this author researched that completely, the writing really does not show it. Even the horrifying aspects were not explained and were handled kind of lightly, which i really did not like. Also the characters were mostly undeveloped. For example, Hannahs husband reminded one of a last century Jewish immigrant and not a citizen of the 1500s. As i said, this book was an outline for what could have been a deep and enriching novel, but if you want an easy read with under developed everything, this is it. I did afterall finish it!
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE by Roberta Rich is an amazing historical fiction set in 16th century Venice. It follows midwife Hannah Levi,and her husband Issac,a sea merchant as they journey through the struggles of this era. With religious persecution,murder,sibling rivalry,faith,intrigue,treachery,the plague,midwife dangers,love,blackmail,and the struggle of a husband and wife to re-unite. “The Midwife Of Venice” will have you captivated from the first page to the last page. The author has captured the strength of women during this era with vivid descriptions and a rich cast of characters. You will not go wrong in reading this amazing tale of a Italian-Jewish Midwife,her struggles to survive,her desires to deliver healthy babies,have healthy mothers,and her new a delivery device(the spoon) . A wonderful debut. Be prepared to be transported back to the 1500′s, in this compelling story of women from centuries ago. Received for an honest review from the publisher.Details can be found at Galley Books,a division of Simon & Schuster,Inc., the author’s website, and My Book Addiction and More. RATING: 4.5 HEAT:Sweet: No sex or scenes of physical intimacy except some kissing. No graphic violence or profanity. REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story. Easy read. Fast read. Worth reading. Had an enjoyable time readjng this book. Not the best ending. Maybe not a literary masterpiece. While it was a good story, not that challenging of a book. Not the highest level of literary work.
reececo331 More than 1 year ago
This book is a great gift on Mother’s Day, celebrating our mutual humanity. The Midwife of Venice, A dynamic book, written from two points of view, about Hannah and her husband Issac Levi. Both characters are Jewish middle class living in the ghetto of the wandering streets and canals of Venice, Italy. Hannah is an inspirational caring Midwife. Who works diligently, to save the lives of her patients, and the children she helps bring into the world. In an attempt to find a new way that will help expectant mothers and their children through the process of Confinement she makes a new device that may cause her problems. Then Issac who attempts to elevate his family’s fortune by a perilous journey to sea is captured. He is ransomed for a large sum of money, Hannah is unable to obtain. She risks her life, and the lives of the people in the ghetto to raise the money to save her beloved husband. Only to be caught up in a crime that will endanger them more. Through her struggle you will find the marks of humanity. The attempt of life preservation and family inheritance is a dichotomous war of will. Can Hannah stand up for her profession, her people, her husband, and her poor patient? Will she be able to save the mother, and child? Will her gamble allow her to see her husband again? The story is very educational about Jewish tradition, and historical facts of the persecution of the Jewish citizens of Italy. His book teaches how tolerance would enable freedom, while persecution will only lead to problems for those oppressed and those whom oppress.
EraCG More than 1 year ago
Can't say I was thrilled but the book is ok.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Intriguing and captivating. I was unable to put down this book. I felt it was well researched and extremely detailed. The descriptions used were very visual. I definately will be reading the second book of the series when it is released in February.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am in the field where babies are born so midwifery grabbed my attention. I like the way it is fairly accurate at how the process actually happens so bravo to our author for getting basic facts correct. The story is an easy read that keeps you wondering what will happen next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating subject, well-researched, reasonably rendered, but the storyline got quite melodramatic - hard to not react with skepticism (such as the scene at the ghetto abbatoir). Also, (this seems to not have come up in any other reviews, so maybe it's just me) I felt manipulated by the continual cliffhanger/switch-to-other-storyline. I ended up skipping chapters to follow Hannah, then starting over with Isaac's chapters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book from the first page. As there were some twists and turns it kept me on the edge of my seat. So much so that I had to finish it in one day to find out how it was going to end and would she find her husband. A few times I held my breath because I thought sure she was goint to caught and convicted because she was a Jew and was not supposed to help deliver any babies out of the Jewish section of the city.
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This book was disjointed and not enjoyable at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depressing and not well developed storyline and characters. The author seemed more interested in showing off the knowledge she thinks she has than in writing a full book. Don't waste your time.
msaperry More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book overall. The writer is very talented and wove a wonderful story, even if it's not historically accurate as some other reviews have stated.
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