Book of the Month: March 2012
The Midwife of Venice
Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her talent for coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers’ wombs —a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the count’s baby and threatens her voyage to Malta - where Isaac, believing Hannah dead from the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. Not since The Red Tent or People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago, or so richly into an intriguing story that transcends the boundaries of history.
About the Author
Born in Buffalo, New York, Roberta Rich was, until recently, a practicing family lawyer. She has also been a student, waitress, nurses’ aide, hospital admitting clerk, and factory assembly line worker. She currently divides her time between Vancouver, B.C. and Colima, Mexico. She is married and has one daughter, three step-children, a German Shepherd, tropical fish and many oversexed parakeets. The Midwife of Venice marks her debut as a novelist.
Questions for Thought and Discussion
Rabbi Ibraiham warns Hannah that by choosing to save the life of her husband, she is endangering the life of the entire ghetto. What do you think of this statement? Is she making the right choice? What would you do?
Discuss the means by which Hannah and Isaac cling to their faith, despite the many temptations to convert. How are their approaches to the Jewish faith similar, in your opinion? How are they different, and why?
Do you think the Conte’s love of his wife is genuine? Why or why not?
For more questions, see the Reader’s Guide from Random House.
Jewish midwives play an important role in the story of Passover. Discuss with your book group the roles midwives have played in the history Judaism. Jewish Women’s Archive has an article to help you get started.
Check out Jayne Cohen’s article about how cucina ebraica has left its mark on Italy’s famous cuisine, and impress your book group with authentic Italian Jewish food such as Cassola (Ricotta Cheese Dessert) and Spinaci All’ebraica (Spinach Jewish-Style).
Links & Recommendations
Watch this video of author Roberta Rich talking about why she fell in love with Venice and made it a central part of her novel.
Explore the history of Jewish Venice with this virtual tour from Jewish Virtual Library.
Visit the book’s Facebook page.
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