Novel showcases Jewish history in Venice
Midwife of Venice By Roberta Rich
Roberta Rich, the author of The Midwife of Venice, is American by birth, but now divides her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Mexico. She completed a degree in English and anthropology, before studying law at the University of British Columbia and making a career in family law.
Well past middle age, Roberta Rich, with ambitions to be a writer, learned that one of her favourite authors, the prolific Joy Fielding, was teaching a course at the University of Toronto called “How to Write a Bestseller.” She enrolled.
Roberta Rich says she was already working on the novel that is now The Midwife of Venice.
She submitted the first chapter to Joy Fielding, and the advice given was “More suspense! More suspense! More conflict! They’re not fighting enough!”
Joy Fielding recognized that the novel that Roberta Rich was writing had the potential to find a publisher, and as they worked together, they became friends.
Obviously the advice was taken, and worked, and the novel was published in 2011 by Doubleday Canada and has done very well indeed.
The Midwife of Venice takes place in – yes – Venice, in 1575 and we follow the story of a Jewish midwife, Hannah, and her husband Isaac.
As Roberta Rich says, about her first visit to Venice in 2007, “We were on a walking tour of the Jewish ghetto, which, if you haven’t seen it for yourself, is like a movie set of narrow, dark buildings and several synagogues, tucked away on second and third floors, out of view.
Walking up the staircases and through musty passages and narrow streets strung with drying laundry, I began to wonder what life must have been for Jews who flocked to the ghetto as one of the few safe havens available at the time. I started thinking about my characters and a plot almost immediately after visiting the ghetto.
“Within a few weeks, I had a pretty good sense of the character and how I wanted the plot to progress.”
The Jewish Ghetto in Venice is unique in that it is basically unchanged since the 1500s. The buildings are mostly the same but life there is very different now than it was at the time of this novel. In the novel we have the Jews of Venice confined to the ghetto from midnight until the ringing of the morning bells of St. Marks.
When the fictional Hannah ventures out of the ghetto to assist a Christian woman in a difficult birth she knows she is risking her own safety, but she hopes that by doing so she may be able to help her husband who has been forced into slavery.
Today the ghetto is home to very few Jews, the synagogues are used for various purposes; some open only for certain holidays and the tours explaining the history of the ghetto and the Jews of Venice.
The Midwife of Venice is a good place to start if you are planning a trip to Venice and are interested in the Jewish history of the city.
Happily for readers who enjoyed this book, you will be very pleased to know that Roberta Rich is currently working on a sequel and will continue the story of Hannah and Isaac – and will very likely be as bestselling a novel as The Midwife of Venice.