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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-01-02
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)