The Harem Midwife
In this second in the series following The Midwife of Venice, Hannah and Isaac have now made their way to Constantinople after fleeing Venice. It is 1579, and Hannah has made herself indispensable as the midwife to the Valide and to Sultan Murat III’s harem. As it is, Constantinople is much more tolerant of Jews than was Venice, so she and Isaac have made a home and a business without fear of reprisals.
Hannah is called in the middle of the night to the palace, not to attend a birthing, but to talk down a young girl in tatters, a “purchase” by the Sultan who has taken a liking to her. Leah is 14 and Jewish, her family has been slaughtered by barbarians, and she was sold into slavery. Hannah has been asked to determine whether Leah is “intact” because it is the Valide’s intention of luring the Sultan away from his favorite wife and begetting male heirs via Leah.
Then, of course, there’s a side story. Isaac’s alleged sister-in-law – his brother’s widow – comes to Constantinople to collect her dowry. Religious rules require that Isaac marry this woman if he cannot repay her. Hannah and Isaac’s marriage is on the verge of collapse.
The historical detail is fascinating, and I have to admit to adoring Hannah. She is feisty, thoughtful, daring yet deeply emotional. What drove me nuts was how Rich felt compelled to tie up every single loose thread at the end by some strange deus ex machina resolutions. Some of it felt downright forced, and it ruined my enjoyment of the book.