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New Book Review: The Midwife of Venice

Read about blood and intrigue on the canals of Venice in Roberta Rich's debut novel.
By: Sarah Bauder
Published: March 30th, 2011 in Culture » Books » Reviews
The Midwife of VenicePic: NILL

In the societal context of Renaissance Italy, specific subjects have always taken precedence in the historical novel: The Medici of Florence, Cellini’s Rome, and the moral turpitude of the Borgia clan to cite a meaty few. Rarely have women, let alone Jewish women, been given a voice from this period of history.

With her debut novel, The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich unveils the segregated world of Jewish women in Renaissance Venice. As with most historical novels, certain creative liberties are taken, and a measure of suspended disbelief is needed. That said, Rich has crafted a superb and compelling tale of adventure.

The year is 1575 and Rich juxtaposes her story between Hannah, a Jewish midwife in Venice, and Isaac (her husband enslaved on the isle of Malta). Thus, Midwife weaves a tale of love, family, religious and social mores, plague and murder.

It is evident that Rich has done her fair share of research into the period. Likewise, Venice is not a jewel in the crown of Italy, as it so oft is described, but rather a plague-ridden cesspool of fetid canals, were death (in its various facets) lurks at every turn. In fact, with Rich’s use of descriptive language throughout the novel, one’s olfactory sense nearly kicks into action.

Despite the smattering of plot holes, The Midwife of Venice is a fast-paced, and intriguing tale definitely worth the read. For a debut attempt, Rich certainly proves herself a gifted raconteur.

The Midwife of Venice, by Roberta Rich, Doubleday Canada, 329 pages, $22.95

Related articles: book reviews, Roberta Rich, Venice, The Midwife of Venice
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