Set in the 16th century, this is the story of, Hannah, a Jewish midwife who is living in the ghetto. Her movements are restricted, as are those of all Jew's.. Her husband, Isaac) has gone off on a dangerous mission to seek riches. She begged him not to go, but he went anyway and was captured by the Knights of Malta who take him prisoner and sell him at auction.
Hannah is awakened in the middle of the night by the Rabbi, a Christian Count and his brother who have come to seek her services in helping the delivery of the count’s child. This is dangerous and illegal, but his wife has been laboring for a long time, unsuccessfully, and is near death. Hannah's reputation has brought him to her door. The baby's life is in danger and with it, his family inheritance. As a Jew, Hannah is forbidden to aid in the childbirth of a Christian, and a Christian is forbidden from seeking her services. However, these are extreme circumstances. Her husband needs to be bought back with ransom money and the community doesn't have enough yet, and the Count’s wife and baby will probably die without her help. She asks the Count for an exorbitant amount, the amount necessary to pay the ransom on her husband. She tells him to save his wife, he must save her husband. Also, her heart wavers because of his extraordinary plight. She defies the law and the rabbi who insists she remain and not aid the woman and jeopardize the whole ghetto by her actions.
Soon she saves the mother and child. The Count tells her of someone who can arrange her passage to Malta where her husband is held captive. There are flies in the ointment, however, her "birthing spoons", thought of as tools of witchcraft, are stolen. She is blackmailed to get them back and will lose the sum the Count has paid her if she complies. The plot thickens further when the newborn’s life is in danger. Murder and mayhem ensue.
While the story is interesting, there are so many convenient coincidences that defy the imagination, that it becomes less believable as it progresses. It is worthwhile, however, in terms of the information about the way the Jews and Christians lived in the mid 1500's. It explains their hardships and the prejudices that they had to live with daily. It shares some of the customs of the religious Jews. It draws a distinction between the classes. For the upper classes, life offered many benefits with servants and other luxuries in abundance, but technology was non-existent, science was not advanced, disease wiped out everyone in its path regardless of class distinction, there was no religious freedom, and for the masses, life was very hard in all ways. Therefore, even though the story seemed a bit contrived, it was not a difficult book and was worth the read.