Hannah lives in the Jewish ghetto of Venice in the sixteenth century and is known as one of the best midwives around. When a Christian count shows up on her doorstep in need of her aid to tend to his wife in labour, she is conflicted. Her nature urges her to go to the woman in need but she fears that if the child dies during birth, it would bring dire circumstances to the ghetto she calls home. However, the money that the count is offering for her help will certainly help bring her husband home from Malta, where he has been captured. What Hannah doesn’t realize is that her decision will set off a chain of events that changes her life.
The Midwife of Venice is, in essence, a coming of age story for this young midwife. For the most part, she seemed generally happy in her neighbourhood, minding her own business, doing her job until something unexpected forces her out of her comfort zone. Time and time again after that, Hannah encounters situations that makes her trust her gut feeling, thereby growing and maturing her character. I loved watching Hannah blossom and gain confidence, owning her responsibilities and duties to face whatever may come at her.
Told in alternating viewpoints, we also get a snapshot of what Isaac, Hannah’s husband, is going through while being held captive in Malta. The timing of each point of view is especially beneficial to the overall story in building some suspense whether things will ever work out for the couple or not. This added tension worked well as an almost subplot to the adventures and situations that Hannah was going through.
While the society around Hannah seemed to be very divided in religion with many prejudices on both sides, I admired that she didn’t let that hold her back. Without giving away anything, there were some particular points in the book that I felt were quite biblical, as if Rich was giving a nod to the religion. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction novel and felt it was a nice refreshing time period and setting to read. So often, the historical fiction I read is set in England, in the time of the Tudors, and I very much loved discovering Rich’s Venice in and around the same century.
The sequel, The Harem Midwife, is available in stores as of October 29, 2013.