Interview with Roberta Rich, Author of The Midwife of Venice

Roberta Rich is the author of The Midwife of Venice, a vivid historical chronicling the struggles of a Jewish midwife in Venice during the 16th century. Roberta stopped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and to discuss her book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Roberta Rich] Beautiful, driven, witty, thin and a liar.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about The Midwife of Venice?

[Roberta Rich] Hannah Levi is an accomplished midwife in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice in 1575. She is uncommonly successful with difficult births, using her own invention, “birthing spoons,” a form of forceps. Her reputation spreads outside the ghetto, and one dark night her rabbi visits her with two Christian noblemen who wish to use her services to save the life of a Christian countess.

Because the Catholic Church forbids Jews to attend Christians, her rabbi orders with her to reject the entreaties of the aristocrats. By ignoring him, she puts the people of the ghetto in peril, but for her own urgent and personal needs, she agrees to deliver the baby if the Conte will pay her enough so that she may ransom her husband Isaac, captured by pirates and enslaved on the island of Malta.

Hannah finds herself in the midst of a family plot of greed and succession. Against a backdrop of Black Plague, betrayal, and multiple murders, she must kidnap the child to keep him from being murdered.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Roberta Rich] First came the idea of the birthing spoons, and then I needed someone to use them and so Hannah, my midwife was born. Hannah had to have a husband, so I created Isaac. Then Hannah needed someone to hide her when she was being pursued by the authorities, and that was her sister, Jessica, a courtesan.

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Midwife of Venice?

[Roberta Rich] Devising a coherent plot is always my biggest challenge. Ideas for characters, setting and dialogue seem to flow but a plot? No.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Hannah?

[Roberta Rich] Resourceful, bright, brave.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are three things Hannah would never have in her medical kit?

[Roberta Rich] Leeches, a crochet hook, and a pair of pliers.

[Manga Maniac Café] What is Hannah’s single most prized possession?

[Roberta Rich] Her silver birthing spoons, a rudimentary form of forceps she invented.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Roberta Rich] Reading history, especially social history- books like Centuries of Childhood by Phillip Aries or Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Roberta Rich] My computer, my dog, Stella, and peace of mind.

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Roberta Rich] Get Me Out: A Brief History of Childbirth by Dr. Randi Epstein.

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Roberta Rich] Little Women or, maybe, Gone With the Wind.

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Roberta Rich] Ride my bike and watch movies but not at the same time.

[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?

[Roberta Rich] If you have a book club and would like to have me appear via Skype, just email me at:

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can order The Midwife of Venice from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.