The Midwife of Venice is the story of Hannah and Isaac Levi, a Jewish couple living in Venice. Hannah is a midwife and Isaac a trader. A Christian nobleman, asks Hannah to help his wife who has been in labour for two days. Hannah helps the Christian woman, against the counsel of her Rabbi who reminds her that for a Jew to render medical assistance to a Christian is against the law. As the story opens, Isaac has been captured in Malta and is enduring much suffering as a slave but hoping to be ransomed. The story develops against this background.The subject has great promise and we do get glimpses of the social history of 16th century Venice and the surrounding areas. Poverty, disease and discrimination make for a hard life especially for the Jews. The book was an easy read and the suspense kept me reading and turning the pages but overall the book was disappointing. The subject had plenty of scope but the author I felt did not delve into the details adequately and therefore did not sufficiently develop the themes of the book.
The whole idea of midwifery, one of the central themes of the book was not described in enough detail. We see Hannah attending only one delivery. Other themes of the book, e.g Jewish customs and rituals or anti Semitism also are not sufficiently explored. Hannah is a very attractive character – intelligent, courageous, as is Isaac but we don’t know enough about them. What was Hannah’s background? How did she come to be a midwife? We meet no characters in the book other than characters central to the plot. The plot itself is weak and far too contrived. There are no sub plots to develop the main themes of the novel.
The book is a fast read and will definitely hold your attention but it is no more than that. It lacks the depth that would make it a good book. The idea is good, the execution leaves the reader wanting.
Geetha`s love of books began when she was a child. She later turned that love into formal education with a Masters in English Literature and then again into a career for a few years, teaching English at Ethiraj and Fergusson Colleges in India. Though her career took her into the computer industry, Geetha has continued to read both individually as well as part of a book club in Newmarket, Canada where she lives.