There are so many accolades out there for this book that my expectations were huge going in. I expected epic/emotional/life changing. What I got was a really good, solid debut novel. It was hard for me to sort those two things out. This is why I try to avoid reading reviews of a book I want to read. It takes work to sort out my feelings for the book on its own merits. Hopefully I have managed to do that.
Before the book even begins our Jewish midwife, Hannah has had some major life events that set the scene for the story:
- Her husband Isaac has headed out to sea to make some much needed cash. Sadly, instead of earning money for himself and his wife, he is captured and sold into slavery in Malta. Somehow, Hannah must find a way to pay 200 ducats for his release. An unattainable sum for a poor midwife living in the Jewish ghetto.
- As a caring and effective midwife, Hannah has seen women die trying to deliver stubborn babies. As she considers options and tries desperately to save her patients, she realises that what she needs is a tool that will help encourage the baby out of the birth canal. And so she invents her 'birthing spoons' - a forerunner of modern day forceps.
- Hannah is barren: unable to conceive a child of her own.
Obviously, as a slave, Isaac's life is not all sunshine and lollipops. The horrors of his life were not the focus of his chapters, though, rather we are treated to be introduced to a man who doesn't waste time complaining about his lot in life. Instead he spends his time trying to better his chances of escaping and finding his way home to his beloved Hannah. I must say, I actually enjoyed Isaac's story more than Hannah's.
Overall, The Midwife of Venice is a triumph as a debut book and I'm glad this challenge finally pushed me to read it. It is a fast, easy read with lots of meat. I would definitely recommend it but try and separate the reality of the novel from the overly enthusiastic reviews out there .
Character Development 4
A Taste from page 171:
When the man and his mare were out of site, Isaac gave himself over to rage, cursing the God who had abandoned him. His last hope was gone. He might as well throw himself into the sea. Better a fast death than a slow starvation. If he failed to deliver Gertrudis' heart to Joseph, he would be on the next galley to leave port. Even if he succeeded in wooing the woman for that oaf, what was gained? He would have his freedom but no passage off the island.