Shalom Life | October 31, 2014

A Conversation with Roberta Rich, Author of 'The Midwife of Venice'

Shalom Life has a conversation with the author of the acclaimed, The Midwife of Venice.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: May 9th, 2012 in Culture » Books » Interviews

A Conversation with Roberta Rich, Author of 'The Midwife of Venice'
In her acclaimed debut novel, The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich has unveiled a compelling story of the segregated world of Jewish women in 16th century Venice. She has crafted a tale juxtaposed betwixt Hannah, a gifted Jewish midwife residing in Ghetto Nuevo, and Isaac (her husband enslaved on the island of Malta). In essence, Midwife of Venice is a masterful story of love, family, religious and social mores, plague and murder. For more information, visit www.robertarich.com.

Shalom Life was able to have a conversation with Roberta Rich, regarding her superb historical novel.


What first got you interested in writing about 16th Century Venetian Jewish midwife?

In 2007 my husband and I were on a walking tour of Venice. We visited the Ghetto Nuevo, the original ghetto founded in 1516 by the Council of Ten, the city’s ruling body. I was transfixed by the campo, the open square, and the knife-shaped buildings surrounding it.


How did you develop the character of Hannah? Likewise, what about her husband Isaac?

I started thinking about my characters and a plot almost immediately upon visiting the ghetto. Within a few weeks I had a pretty good sense of the characters and how I want the plot to progress. The ideas for Hannah and Isaac came purely from my imagination.

I wanted Hannah to be the best midwife in Venice, Christian or Jewish, not only because she was a kind and competent person but because she was resourceful and had invented a rudimentary form of forceps. The idea came to her during a Shabbat dinner when she was ladling beet soup from a tureen into bowls. She dropped the ladle and in fishing it out of the tureen with an identical spoon came up with the idea for her forceps. The next day, she went to the silversmith with a sketch in hand and had him make them.
The character of the Rabbi arose from an autobiography I had the good fortune to read by Leon Modena.


This month you have various promotional events for The Midwife of Venice in Toronto, Montreal, and Buffalo. Are you in the “like” or “dislike” camp, regarding book tours?

The Midwife of Venice has been out a year in Canada and a few months in the States. So I am now thoroughly in touch with my ‘inner ham’. It turns out I love public speaking as long as the audience is good and has lots of questions.

Your next novel continues Hannah’s tale, and is set in Constantinople. Can you give a sneak peak regarding the material?

I am very excited about my current novel, tentatively entitled In the Eye of the Sultan. It is a sequel to The Midwife of Venice. My Venetian characters, Hannah and Isaac are living happily in Constantinople (Istanbul) running a successful silk workshop when Isaac’s sister-in-law arrives and shatters their lives in an unexpected way.

I enjoy doing research and this project is giving me an opportunity to read about the Ottoman Empire, to visit Istanbul, and, in particular the old Jewish quarters of Galata and Fener Balat and Kuzgankuk. It also gave me the excuse to write to the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul to ask permission to visit the Ahrida shul, an old Sephardic synagogue in Balat. This shul has the remarkable distinction of having a tevah in the shape of a ship’s prow. These days there are few Jews left in Istanbul. Most emigrated to Israel many years ago. But the city has a number of Jewish heritage sites.


You were a divorce lawyer for 25 years. What brought about the transition to author?

I started my own family law practice in 1976 with a law school friend of mine who is now a judge. We practiced in downtown Vancouver two blocks from the courthouse. I enjoyed practicing family law, particularly litigation. I sold my practice in December 1999.

Practicing law taught me nothing about good writing, although a few judges did comment that some of my legal briefs sounded more like novels than legal arguments. It did, however, teach me a lot about treachery, revenge and the intricate workings of the human heart.


Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

I am generally at the computer by about 9:00 am and write till lunchtime. Take a break for an hour and then write until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Lucky for me, I am a gregarious hermit. I love the solitariness of the writing life, but I also love the promotion side of things.

This is my routine in Colima, Mexico where I spent the winter. After breakfast, and those of you who remember the movie, ‘Fargo’ will recall the line from Marg’s husband, ‘You need a good breakfast, Marge.’ I get dressed, kiss my husband good-bye and walk 30 feet to my study. I work as long as I can, or until the iguanas pesters me too much with their scaly little feet on the roof tiles. Usually a good 4-5 hours. Which doesn’t seem a whole lot. I am not a fast writer. For me, 500 -1000 words is a good day. But the pages add up. It’s like what your mom use to tell you about saving money, a dollar a week isn’t much, but at the end of the year you will have $52, plus interest.

Dafy Hagai Challenges Everything You Think You Know About Israeli Girls Dafy Hagai Challenges Everything You Think You Know About Israeli Girls TrendingAmy Winehouse Exhibition Lands in Tel Aviv Amy Winehouse Exhibition Lands in Tel Aviv TrendingDirector Ari Cohen Discusses His Latest Doc, ‘The Family Farm’ Director Ari Cohen Discusses His Latest Doc, ‘The Family Farm’ Trending
 

Dry California Welcomes Israeli Water Expert

October 31, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Dry California Welcomes Israeli Water Expert

'As an issue of national security, Israel has successfully made itself water independent,' says California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird

Read More

Op-Ed: CUNY Is No Place For BDS Movement’s Hate

October 31, 2014 | By Jacob Baime, JNS.org
Op-Ed: CUNY Is No Place For BDS Movement’s Hate

Last week, the doctoral students council of CUNY once again considered a hateful resolution, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions

Read More

Lieberman to Sweden: Middle East Relations More Complex Than Assembling IKEA Furniture

October 31, 2014 | By Ynet News
Lieberman to Sweden: Middle East Relations More Complex Than Assembling IKEA Furniture

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom disagrees

Read More

Lena Dunham and Celebrity BFF’s Raise Awareness For Planned Parenthood

October 30, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Lena Dunham and Celebrity BFF’s Raise Awareness For Planned Parenthood

The 'Girls' creator has designed a shirt for the women's rights organization

Read More

Seth Rogen Will Play Steve Wozniak in New Steve Jobs Bio Pic

October 30, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Seth Rogen Will Play Steve Wozniak in New Steve Jobs Bio Pic

Rogen is in negotiations to star as the Apple co-founder alongside Christian Bale

Read More

A New Pee-Wee Herman Movie Has Been Confirmed

October 30, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
A New Pee-Wee Herman Movie Has Been Confirmed

Paul Reubens told Jimmy Fallon that Judd Apatow will be producing the reboot

Read More

Breakthrough Jew - Joshua Meier

October 30, 2014 | By Sara Torvik
Breakthrough Jew - Joshua Meier

18-year-old Meier won the Best in Category Award in cellular and molecular biology at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his work in harnessing the aging process to treat diseases.

Read More

Startup Club: Cat2See

October 30, 2014 | By Caitlin Marceau
Startup Club: Cat2See

The Israeli company has created an app that lets you play with your cats, monitor them, and even feed them when you're not home

Read More

More Headlines