The Midwife of Venice – Roberta Rich

Hope this isn't the figure from Don't Look Now!

I found this on the table of the hotel that I arrived in whilst in Venice and thought that it was a sign I should read it.  The story is set in 1575 and tells the story of a Jewish midwife, Hannah who is summoned to help deliver a baby for a Christian noble woman who is close to death.  Unfortunately during this time all Jews were confined  to the ghetto (the word originates from Venice)  at night and were not allowed to treat Christian patients. She faces the risk of being brought before the Inquisition for witchcraft due to the use of her birthing spoons in assisting the baby’s delivery. In return for helping with the birth she asks for enough money to rescue her husband Isaac who has been captured by mercenaries in the pay of the Knights of St. John and is imprisoned on the island of  Malta.

The horrible gory accounts of childbirth and awful methods used to sacrifice a baby in order to save a mother’s life are much more interesting than the story of Isaac so I found myself become frustrated with the dual narratives of Hannah and Isaac and just wanted to get back to Hannah’s story.  There were times that the book just became frustrating to read, with you wanting to shout “just do this, woman”, so I suppose this indicates I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the characters.

I had to suspend my disbelief towards the end, and I started skimming a bit.  Rich has obviously done research about 16th century Venice and childbirth but she admits the birthing spoons were not known to have been used then so there is a fair bit of embellishment.It is interesting about Judaism in the  16th century but I only really wanted to read this because I was in Venice, the other books I read about the city were  more enjoyable.


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