With her bestselling debut novel, The Midwife of Venice (2011), Roberta Rich established herself as a prominent voice in historical fiction. Rich had previously written 2 unpublished novels based on her experience as a divorce LAWYER, a career she found was ripe with fascinating stories about human relationships. One of her mentors along the route to publication was novelist Joy Fielding, whose "how to write a BESTSELLER" course she took at the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO; Rich became Fielding's first student to have a book published.
A 2007 holiday trip to Venice planted the seed that developed into The Midwife of Venice. During a walking tour of the city's Jewish ghetto, Rich noted the crowded dwellings and narrow staircases and pondered the difficulties of living in such a sociable yet secluded environment. Her heroine's character came into her mind almost immediately, while the need to recreate the historical setting in fiction spurred her to research the daily lives of average citizens and their families, 16th-century midwifery, and the plight of Jewish captives on Malta.
The Midwife of Venice sheds light on the little-known lives of Jewish women in Venice during the Renaissance. This fast-paced thriller full of pertinent historical and social information, jaunty humour, and hairsbreadth escapes introduces Hannah Levi, an expert midwife living alone in Venice's Jewish ghetto. Her husband, Isaac, had been captured by mercenaries while on a trading voyage and is being held for ransom on Malta. Hannah's decision to save the life of a Christian noblewoman dying in childbirth using the "birthing spoons" she invented gives her enough money to pay Isaac's kidnappers but also leads her into danger. The twisting, suspenseful plot illustrates the religious complications of the time as well as historical medicine, the roles of Renaissance women, and Venice's dark atmosphere.
The Midwife of Venice spent 26 weeks on the GLOBE & MAIL bestseller list. When asked to describe her work, Roberta Rich replied: "Midwife is an old-fashioned love story filled with action and strong characters that are forced to make moral choices that usually rebound to their detriment." Her careful focus on historical and cultural details, colourful characterizations of ordinary people, and realistic interpretation of Jewish-Christian relations have made her a gifted chronicler of 16th-century Europe's hidden lives.
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Author SARAH JOHNSON