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The Midwife of Venice    by Roberta Rich order for
Midwife of Venice
by Roberta Rich
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich, an engrossing historical novel set in sixteenth century Venice and Malta, follows the separate adventures of Hannah and Isaac Levi, a Jewish husband and wife cruelly separated by fate. They parted in anger, Hannah arguing the perils of a trading trip to the Levant, rightly as things turned out. Isaac's ship was attacked by the Knights of Malta, who enslaved those they didn't kill. Now Isaac is in Valletta, on the edge of starvation, desperately trying to survive by his wits, in the hope of his ransom being raised.

In the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Hannah Levi (herself barren) makes a living from her skills in midwifery, enhanced by a tool she has invented, silver birthing spoons. As the story opens, Rabbi Ibraiham reluctantly escorts a Christian count into the ghetto to consult Hannah. Though it's against the law for a Jewish midwife to assist a Christian woman in childbirth, Conte Paolo di Padovani has heard of Hannah's reputation and is desperate to win her help for his wife Lucia, who has already been in labour for two days and nights. Though it's dangerous for herself and the entire ghetto, Hannah agrees on condition that the Conte pays her husband's ransom of two hundred ducats.

Hannah succeeds in saving both Lucia and baby Matteo and wins the ransom for her efforts, but is later blackmailed by the Conte's profligate brother, who acquired her birthing spoons (whose use could result in Hannah being burned as a witch). Hannah is forced to beg for help from her younger sister Jessica, a Venetian courtesan. After Jessica converted to Christianity to marry a gentile (who later abandoned her), the Rabbi insisted that the family have no contact with her, and barred Hannah from helping with her sister's confinement. Jessica lost her baby and is not surprisingly bitter towards the sister she considers a ghetto mouse.

Readers follow Hannah and Isaac through their many adventures - they survive the plague and slavery, betrayals and the Rabbi's attempt to separate them, before being reunited in a very satisfying ending. I recommend The Midwife of Venice to you as a thoroughly engaging read.

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