Details, not the story, will stay with readers

Reviewed by: Jennifer Ryan Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2011 H9

The Midwife of Venice

By Roberta Rich

Doubleday Canada, 336 pages, $23

CANADIAN Roberta Rich has combined two subjects of historical fiction — anti-Semitism and midwifery — in her first stab at commercial fiction

Set in 16th-century Italy, it’s the story of a Jewish midwife who agrees to attend the birth of a nobleman’s child, even though it goes against papal edict for a Jew to help a Christian. It will put her entire ghetto at risk if something goes wrong during the already difficult birth.

Imagine what Ami McKay could have done with that material if she’d worked it into her 2006 midwife tale, The Birth House, set in early 20th-century Nova Scotia.

The Italian count has not stumbled on his midwife, Hannah, by accident. Her reputation for coaxing stubborn babies from their mothers’ wombs has spread through Venice, though few know that her success is largely due to her treasured invention, a rudimentary form of forceps she calls birthing spoons.

Hannah is reluctant to go with the desperate nobleman, but sees the opportunity to free her husband Isaac, who has been sold as a slave in Malta. She demands 200 gold ducats — enough for her to sail to Malta and pay Isaac’s ransom — and the count agrees. …..   Read more