Saturday, January 22, 2011
THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE by Roberta Rich (from the ARC, on sale February 2011) Doubleday Canada
THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE is Roberta Rich's glorious debut novel.
Hannah Levi, a young married Jewish woman, is known for her midwifery skills throughout 16th century Venice. When a Christian nobleman arrives at her ghetto door under the cloak of night, imploring Hannah to aid his dying wife, believing that she is their only true hope of a safe delivery, Hannah's faith is tested. As her aging rabbi reminds her, for a Jew to minister to a Christian is not only against the law, but also punishable by torture and death.
Then the Conte offers Hannah an unthinkable sum of money, an amount so generous that Hannah could possibly buy back her husband's life from the Knights of St. John by whom he has been captured and forced into slavery in Malta months before. Hannah is willing to take the risk of not being able to save the Contessa's and her baby's life and being caught ministering to a labouring Christian woman in order to live with the real hope that she will be reunited soon with Isaac, her true love.
Complicating Hannah's journey are the toxic younger brothers of the Conte who are threatened by the idea of an heir to their brother's estate (let alone a living, breathing one) and the sweeping presence of the plague that fills barges daily with diseased corpses of old and young alike.
Written with an eye for relevant historical detail and a capacity for rich sensory experiences exquisitely rendered, THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE surprised me at every narrative turn. Robert Rich is a novelist to watch.