The stereotype image of the witch was well-known in ancient times. She was usually a big, old lady with no charm and even ugly. She was not rich at all, just on the opposite she wore shabby clothes and lived in the poor complexes and houses in towns. She was that lady who prepared decoctions and poisons in special pots called caccabus with which she removed spells and she could tell the future and what one had to expect.
In Medieval times all such strange and extraordinary women (and not only) were declared witches and were prosecuted and killed by the Inquisition. Even “The Midwife of Venice” who is extremely skilful in midwifery is threatened with such a fate because she uses “birthing spoons” (something like rudimentary forceps) while she attends labouring ladies.
She is Hannah Levi, a Jewish lady living in the Jewish ghetto in Venice. She is very dedicated to her husband Isaac, who is captured at sea and brought as a slave to Malta. Her love for him is enormous so she breaks a Papal edict and commits a crime by attending a Christian labouring wife who is giving a birth to her son Matteo. Unfortunately, some circumstances and the evil and greedy plots of the baby’s uncles force her to kill one of them and to adopt the little child. After having become Matteo’s new mother and after having collected the money for her husband’s ransom she takes a long voyage to Malta to release Isaac. She meets an Ottaman wife whom Hannah helps on the ship. And that is the beginning of her new life as “The Harem Midwife”.
Hannah and Isaac’s tale continues in Constantinople where they settle down and bring up their son Matteo. He establishes business in silk trade while she becomes a recognized midwife in the whole town as well as in the opulent palace and harem of Sultan Murat III. Although in exile in the imperial town, the midwife saves her husband’s life for the second time. This time the threat comes from a fake lady pretending to be Isaac’s brother’s widow. The mysterious young beauty has quite a different intention, by the way. She wants to kidnap Matteo and become rich easily in Venice with the help of a greedy Venetian guy who knows about Matteo’s aristocratic blood. So, again incited by her strong love for Isaac, Hannah does her best to keep him and their marriage. This is the reason why she gets involved in the intrigues of the harem and lies to valide sultan (the mother sultan) by helping the beautiful concubine Leah, who is a Circassian peasant Jew who gives a birth to a green-eyed baby girl – their next adopted child.
The novels by Roberta Rich are true fairy-tales from 1001 Nights with Venetians as main characters. Historic facts, fiction and fairy-tale elements are so well mixed in the two stories so that any reader can get the greatest satisfaction by “sailing to” the 16th century Venice, Malta and Constantinople. It’s a love story but at the same time it’s a historic journey in the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire and the island of the Knights of St. John.