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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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The Midwife of Venice is Roberta Rich's debut novel. And it's one I wouldn't have discovered on my own - so, thanks Jessica for the great recommendation!

Hannah Levi is a midwife in the Jewish ghetto of Venice in 1575. When a Christian nobleman asks her to attend his wife, she initially refuses. After all, it is forbidden by law for a Jew to give care to a Christian. But he is desperate - his wife has been labouring for 2 days and is near death. Against the wishes of her rabbi, Hannah agrees - the nobleman has agreed to pay an exorbitant fee. That fee will allow Hannah to buy back her husband Isaac, who has been captured and forced into slavery in Malta.

The Midwife of Venice is full of rich historical detail - the social mores and customs of the time, religious differences and a fascinating look at midwifery. The chapters alternate between Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta and their continuing struggle to be together. Isaac's chapters are just as full of historical detail, but the characters in these chapters seemed a little overdrawn, such as the nun who buys Isaac. It is Hannah and her tale I enjoyed the most. Her character came to life on the page.

Rich has successfully combined history, suspense and romance into a fascinating page turner. My only complaint - it ended too soon! But it looks like a sequel is in the works - I'll be picking it up for sure.

**Congratulations to Roberta Rich - The Midwife of Venice is #8 on the Globe and Mail hardcover bestseller list!**
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on April 5, 2011
Had I seen this book on a shelf in Chapters my eyes would certainly have drifted over it, I wouldn't have even given it a second glance. Historical fiction isn't something I've ever sought out. The title especially wouldn't have interested me. But I have to say, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read The Midwife Of Venice.

The novel is set in 16th century Venice where the main character, Hannah Levi, is a midwife living in the Jewish ghetto. Her husband is a merchant who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Malta. One night a Christian Count comes to Hannah desperate for her to assist his wife who is in a difficult labour. But a Jewish woman helping deliver a Christian baby is against the law and not only would it put her entire community at risk, it's a crime punishable by torture and death. But with a large sum of money offered to her for her efforts, enough to buy her husband's freedom, Hannah decides to risk everything for the man she loves.

The Midwife Of Venice, is more than just a slice of life novel from the past, it's a fast-paced suspense story that's not only beautifully written, but a genuine page-turner. Roberta Rich has created a fierce heroine in Hannah Levi, whose character leaps off the page. The descriptions of life in the 16th century are so vivid and rich in detail I found myself getting lost in the landscape depicted before me. The brutality of that time period, and the sensation of life and death always hanging in the balance throughout the story is compelling. The only thing about this book that I found disappointing was the fact that it wasn't twice as long, because it certainly felt epic. Highly recommended.
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on April 5, 2011
I absolutely loved reading this book. It was so beautifully written, the plot was interesting, and the characters were all memorable. Things just seemed to happen one even after another that the book ended up being a page turner and I would definitely recommend this book for those that are going through a 'reading rut' at the moment. This is the perfect book to get back on track on your 'reading roll'.

The descriptions of the city of Venice were wonderful. There were really great contrasts between the setting where Hannah lives (the Jewish area) and the Christian area. It's not to say that Hannah lives in deep poverty she seems to be living comfortable with just the basic needs. However when compared to the places she goes to outside of the Ghetto area, it's a vast difference and shows how different these two groups of people live. The persecution and hatred that Hannah and her people have to go through on a daily basis is hard to read, and does make you upset while reading them. However, it is historically accurate, and it's interesting to note the mentioning of the blood libel, and how crimes committed against Jews were hugely ignored (however if it was vice versa, there would have been an uproar). So throughout the novel, everywhere she turns, Hannah is faced with her 'Jewishness'. It's what sets her apart from the rest and it's painfully obvious; however she deals with it accordingly and puts it all aside, especially while she does her duties as a midwife.

I really did enjoy reading about Hannah a lot. She's such a strong woman and very determined. She even puts aside her beliefs to doing what she feels is the right thing. She was such a strong character and I really enjoyed reading how despite all the odds against her, and the threats she had to face, she managed to survive and to keep a clear head throughout the novel. Not to mention, she had to make out a living on her own while her husband was taken into slavery, and she manages to survive despite all these overwhelming odds against her. I really did admire her, and I really liked reading about her throughout the book.

Isaac's story line was good, although I wish there was a little more to it. Then again if there was, then it wouldn't be really called 'The Midwife of Venice' would it? Anyway, it was good enough to read, and an interesting story line for a supporting character. Towards the end of the book, I thought it was just a little too rushed at the end, and everything was done just a little too convenient. However, everything did seem to fall into place and I'm wondering if there is going to be a sequel to this. If there is, count me in because I'll definitely be picking it up!

This was a beautifully written, wonderful book to read. I most definitely recommend this book to all historical fiction lovers. Roberta Rich is one of to keep an eye on if she continues to write as superb as this book. I absolutely loved this one.
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on February 16, 2011
Wow - I highly reccomend this book! I read it in a day (couldn't put it down) and loved the strong female characters and descriptions of Jewish life in 16th century Venice. What a terrific novel!
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on February 15, 2011
The Midwife of Venice is fantastic. The story is so compelling I could barely put it down. Roberta Rich creates a 16th century Venice that is accessible and easily understood. The story on its own is captivating, but the backdrop of the Jewish ghetto in Venice adds to our richness and understanding of that place in time. Brilliant!
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on June 24, 2011
It has a decent hook and starts off on a fast pace, which is the type of read I prefer. I found it reached its crescendo far too early, at the end of the fifth chapter. From there it settled into a predictable pace with a foreseeable outcome, much like the travails Hannah Levi attended to.

I would have preferred to see the main characters; Hannah and Isaac, give in a little more to temptation, thus creating more of an intimate crisis for the protagonists to overcome. Both conquered physical hardships, which, for modern day persons, would be difficult to comprehend. It is the intimate human struggles, many may experience at one point in life, which is somewhat lacking - things were tied up neatly like a shiny present. You could see them ride off into the preverbal sunset on the last page, as if their lives were to be a cake-walk from here on out, without the obstacles which make life interesting.

The novel is well written, with just the right amount of detail to clearly envision what the squalid living conditions of a sixteenth century Venetian Jewish Ghetto would be like.

Roberta Rich's portrayal of class and religious division is compelling. Her writing immediately opens up the fellowship between the two main characters and the reader.

I give this novel 3.5/5
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on April 3, 2011
The book started of so well. I really thought it would be one of those books that I would consider just an amazing read. Then it just kind of fell off. I thought it would be a really good historical understanding of a different period of time instead of being a a love affair between two people that happened to take place in Venice and Malta in the 1500. The characters were interesting and engaging/ it just needed a bit more. I would recommend the book as there are not that many great books of this genre. However, if you only read 2 books a year I would not make it this.
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on March 9, 2011
Roberta Rich's story is compelling, the imagery is vivid and the characters are interesting and complex. From the delicious to the disgusting, the author paints a portrait of the era that is so multidimensional that I was completely transported. I was sad when it ended! I hope to see more from this exciting new writer.
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on March 25, 2011
I like this compelling story and liked the juxtaposition of Malta and Venice in the same historical era. I thought the book was a tad short with limited pages on big font. Roberta Rich has woven a wonderful story and could have delved into some of the characters to provide color. I hope her next book is just as good with a little more meat. Buy this book despite my criticism of length, it is an absolute great read.
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on April 23, 2011
The book was amazing. It had great and vivid detail and imagery and transported you back in time. I found it difficult to put it down. It gave you a realistic look at how different people can live in different social circles -- slaves, aristocracy, and just the common person and how there lives can become so intertwined.
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