Thursday, December 29, 2011

'The Midwife of Venice'

After reading so many thrilling mysteries, I felt that it was time for something paced a bit slower.  I was in the mood to read something that didn't leave me reeling, that made me appreciate the subtleties of fine writing (the mysteries were well-written, but they made me race to the end).

'The Midwife of Venice', by Roberta Rich, was the story I was looking for.

Set in 1575 Venice, Italy, it is the story of Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife.  Her husband, Isaac, who had left to secure a better life for them, is captured at sea and held for ransom.  Hannah is an accomplished midwife, with a small secret:  She has invented 'birthing spoons', the forerunner of today's forceps.  Afraid of being accused of witchcraft, Hannah uses her 'spoons' in secret, careful not to let the mother and attendants see them.  But late one night, a Christian aristocrat begs her to help save his dying wife who is having difficulty giving birth to their child, but by a Papal edict, Jews are not allowed to offer medical assistance to Christians.  However, the count offers Hannah enough money to pay her husband's ransom.  As events unfold, she is witness to a family treachery that threatens her very life.

Ms. Rich has skillfully written a tale that is full of humanity, yet left me stunned.  I felt Hannah's desperation, appreciated Isaac's resolve, and cherished the love they had for one another. 

This is a brilliant, sensitive read, and I hope that Ms. Rich soon gifts us with another.

'The Midwife of Venice' will be released in April 2012

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