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The Midwife of Venice by

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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 laboring 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. Not since The Red Tent or 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.

Goodreads Summary

Although it’s against the law for a Jew to give medical treatment to a Christian, Hannah Levi, the ghetto midwife, disobeys her rabbi to help a desperate, wealthy Conte and Contessa. Especially enticing for her is the money she gains; it could ransom her husband who had been enslaved in Malta. Rich alternates her storyline between Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta. Hannah and her sister Jessica, a Christian convert, attempt to keep the infant Matteo safe from his drinking, gambling uncles. While in Malta, Isaac uses his wits to remain alive, in order to return to his Hannah.

The history of Venice, Malta, and the social/religious laws of 1575 are fascinating to read about. Rich mentions that she did her homework; she also includes a list of further reading about this time period. Hannah is a multi-faceted character with so many great qualities. She is courageous, kind, sensible, cunning, responsible, respectful, independent, etc… Her thoughts and procedures when acting as midwife put me right in the room. The dialogue between Christians and Jews highlights the somewhat comical differences between the cultural practices of the two faiths. In the end, it is a Muslim woman who helps Hannah save Matteo. The characters, both those who stand in Hannah and Isaac’s way and those who help them, are well-developed and intriguing. The scary, dirty side of Venice adds menace and suspense. Midwife of Venice is a page-turner.

Four Stars

*Reviewed by Colleen*
This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews.


  1. Susan T. said...:

    I am dying to read this! I love historical fiction and strong heroines.