Friday, July 24, 2015
"The Midwife of Venice": 1575 in Venice = Yucky
After reading "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr, I don't think any other historical fiction will compare. My latest foray into the historical fiction genre was a quick read, but not very satisfying. Compared to "All The Light We Cannot See" which to me is like having the best wine in the world, Roberta Rich's international bestseller "The Midwife of Venice" was like drinking a Coke after the ice melted in it.
Rich's novel seems promising. It follows the story of Hannah Levi, a renowned midwife in Venice who has a special (and secret) apparatus that aids women in childbirth. She lives in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice in 1575 which was not the cleanest time to live in a ghetto or the safest time to bring a child into the world. Plague was rampant, Jews were seen as trash, and childbirth was dangerous as many women and babies died in the process. The second storyline revolves around Hannah's husband, Isaac who was captured at sea and taken to Malta to be sold into slavery. Hannah risks her life and the safety of her beloved ghetto to aid in a Christian birth (forbidden for Jews during that time period) in order to earn the money to buy her husband's freedom. Told in alternating chapters, the stories of both Hannah and Isaac are fraught with danger. Both are headstrong and unyielding and both escape near death in improbable fashion often.
I need to admit that I was a bit grossed out by the graphic descriptions of Hannah's midwife skills during the Countess Lucia's grueling labor and birth. I didn't think I was squeamish until I had to read about the bloody birth. Lucia's weak state along with a large headed baby was not a good combo and Hannah had to try everything in order to save the baby and the mom. Equally as horrific was the treatment of Hannah by the brothers of the family and Lucia's main attendant.
Isaac's chapters were equally as graphic - near starvation, illness, wretched conditions and prejudice rule his quest to make it back home to his wife. But, just like Hannah was a gifted Midwife, Isaac was charming even in his weakened and filthy state and he was able to make deals for his life because he was smart.
This novel does shed light on the conditions in both Venice and Malta during this time period, and it shows the disparities between not only the wealthy and the poor, but the Christians and the Jews during that time. It's graphic because that's the truth of life then.
But, was this a good book that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction?
I rolled my eyes a few too many times. The writing was just adequate, and the implausibility of the narrow escapes by both Hannah and Isaac became tedious instead of more exciting as the novel progressed. I wanted to like it, but too many things held me back. It was a quick read, and a good story idea, but I never got to a point where I could say, "I can't wait to read this book."
I read it.
I finished it quickly, but it was more like finishing a watery coke because there was nothing else to drink at the time even though I really wanted a fine wine.