Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Source of my copy: publisher
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers—a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life.
I don't usually read historical fiction (unless it's a romance novel) but I was drawn to the cover of The Midwife of Venice and after reading the summary and a few reviews, I've surmised that there's no crazy affairs and/or secret lovers in the novel. This novel is not a Philippa Gregory type of historical fiction with all the crazy drama and romantic entanglements--and that means it my preferred kind of historical fiction.
After I flipped the last page, I was surprised by how much I really, really enjoyed this novel. I liked that the story alternates between Hannah, a Jewish midwife, and her husband, Issac, who has been captured at sea and was sold into slavery in Malta. The alternating point-of-view between the characters allowed the reader to be transported to Hannah's dark, gritty Venice and then to Issac's sunny Malta and I love that contrast in the setting. But at the heart of The Midwife of Venice was the deep love Hannah and Issac has for each other. Readers "see" first-hand the struggles Hannah and Issac went through to get back to each other.
Although Hannah and Issac were wonderful, three-dimensional characters, some of secondary characters (mainly the Conte, his wife and the Conte's brothers) could have been a bit more fleshed out. The plot had one weak point for me. I felt there could have been more to the story of the Conte and his wife since they were such big, important characters for the first half the book. I do not want to give anything away so I won't go into any details, but how they exited the story made me go "What? That's it?" Also, I would have liked an of epilogue as well--although I was happy with the ending, it was abrupt.
This novel is definitely well-written and well-research. I know next to nothing about the customs of the Jewish religion or the treatment of Jews by Christians in 16th century Venice and I really enjoyed learning about that in this book. I was also fascinated (and sometimes repulsed) by what a midwife had to do to bring a baby to world and what they may do during a difficult birth. I appreciated the glossary and the list of books for further reading the author provided at the end of the book.
I definitely recommend The Midwife of Venice. It had great characters, especially in Hannah and Issac, set during a very interesting time in history and the plot weaves in a number of fascinating subjects. The ending was abrupt but it may have been deliberate as there may be a sequel in the works? I hope there is. I'd love to read more about Hannah and Issac.