“ The Midwife of the Harem” is a sequel to the bestseller “The Midwife of Venice”!
About the book
Fourteen-year-old Leia lives with her parents and fiancé in the village of Kash. The merciless nomadic tribe Yuruzi attack the family and her lover. After brutally torturing them, they kill them and burn Kash to the ground. They capture Leia and sell her as a concubine in the harem of Sultan Murad III in Constantinople.
Hannah and Isaac Levi arrive in Constantinople from Venice with their son Matteo. Khanna's fame as a midwife capable of dealing with the most difficult degenerates reaches the venerable Valide Sultan.
One night, a messenger from the Sultan appears at her door, asking her to help his beloved wife Safiye give birth painlessly. The great Ottoman Empire desperately needs a male heir to strengthen its position. With the help of Hana Safiye, she gives birth to a daughter and earns the hatred of the Valide Sultan.
Although he is attached to his wife, Murad falls in love with the beautiful concubine Leia. The girl becomes his favorite, who is expected to give him an heir.
Leia wants to escape from the harem, but only Hana can help her.
About the author
Roberta Rich was born in Buffalo, New York. She has worked as a divorce attorney, a waitress, a caregiver, a hospital receptionist, and even an assembly line worker. But despite her varied professions, her dream has always been to be a writer.
A family trip to Italy inspired her to write The Midwife of Venice. As she munches on Jewish sweets and drinks espresso, she comes up with the idea for the historical novel. The trip impressed Roberta and she began to gather information about life in the Jewish quarter of Venice in the sixteenth century. Information on the subject turns out to be scarce, but valuable. "The Midwife of Venice" offers an original way to imagine the lives of women whose stories sink into oblivion. As soon as it appeared on the market, the novel aroused enormous interest and became an international bestseller. The writer did not keep her fans waiting and soon after released "The Midwife of the Harem", a book that continues the story of the readers' favorite heroine - Hannah Levy.
From The Harem Midwife
Crumpled on the ledge, knife in hand, Leia cut her hair with uncertain movements. She tossed more strands into the pile on the floor, pausing only to curse Hana in Hebrew, declaring that Hana and her entire family were the offspring of promiscuous pigs that procreated regardless of blood relation.
– Glad to hear someone speak Hebrew so well, Hannah said. An idea occurred to her. – I know what it's like to be a foreigner in a foreign country.
Did she just think so, or did the girl really drop the knife slightly? He was afraid to move, but he spoke in a calm and unwavering voice without taking his eyes off Leia.
– I, like you, came to this city because I had no choice. It was hard at first - the Ottoman language, from which all the vowels have been stolen, the strange food full of pistachios and cinnamon, the Sephardi Jews, who are so different from the Ashkenazim that it's as if they're not Jewish at all. But I built my life and you have to do the same. Each day will get easier until one day you will accept the harem as your home. They will teach you many things - to embroider, to observe the rules of etiquette, not to point your foot at the elders, not to speak first in the presence of someone more senior than you. In time you will get used to the new environment.
Convincing Leia to accept this life made Hanna feel like a hypocrite. The harem offered luxury and privilege, it could make you a pet and a pet, but would she herself want such a life for her daughter if she were ever blessed with a girl? To be pampered but utterly useless, like the silk butterflies that Isaac carried on heavy trays into the garden-fluttering and twitching transparent creatures that spread their wings in the afternoon sun, spun cocoons, and died at night.
Was it not possible for the Odalisques to learn something more useful than endless embroidery to decorate cloths that needed no more embellishment? Every piece of fabric in the harem was filled with idealized landscapes of pavilions, gardens, cypresses and water, birds, tulips, carnations, arching vines and peacocks, fruits and nuts. So much time and patience for something that would serve to wipe a baby's bottom or be placed between a woman's legs as a bandage! What a waste it all was.
– Will they teach me to write in Ottoman language? I would like that - said Leia and finally removed the knife.
– Mustafa does not allow.
He did not deign to give a reason for this, nor did anyone dare to ask, but Hannah had guessed: he was afraid that girls would write love letters, tie them to pomegranates from the trees in the garden, and throwing them beyond the harem fence where young men could find them. Most likely, these bored young women would do just that. Who could blame them? She would probably do the same if she were them.
– Where is your family? asked Leia.
– My husband and son are here. The rest live in the ghetto in Venice. – Hannah had several cousins and a younger brother, Samuel. She missed them all. Her sister Jessica had died before the midwife left Venice. She didn't want to think about the circumstances surrounding her tragic death.
“Your situation is better than mine,” Leia said in a hushed voice. She glared at Hannah from behind the sheer curtain. Her beautiful face needed a good scrub. – What do you miss most about Venice?
Everything, Hannah thought, but didn't say the words out loud. According to Isaac, over time her imagination had transformed Venice from a city filled with fetid sewers and Jew-hating people into an earthly Babylon. He noticed that the girl had relaxed, but she still didn't get off the windowsill.
– I miss the ghetto. The aroma of feasts – sardines in brine, young artichokes fried in garlic, warm bread and pudding. Here in Constantinople, all I catch is the stench of mutton entrails, overripe plums, and beef offal rotting on the butchers' tables. – She felt what she was saying and shut up. Such talk was unlikely to help the girl. – My sensitive nose is my curse. The aromas here are no worse than those of the ghetto at home. They're just different. When I was a child, my father used to joke that I would make an excellent perfumer if Jews were allowed to do so. He was right, but I am happy with who I am now - a midwife.
– You are a good woman.
And you, sweet girl, need a little kindness, Hannah thought. – You have suffered much more than women twice your age, but you have not bowed and broken. You're as brave as a street cat.
– Leia, you have no control over your life, just like you have no control over the tides. As you toss and toss, scream and moan, as you fight the inevitable, you will drown. But if you go with the flow, you will float on the water. Let me help you.
Hanna heard the girl let out a long held sigh. She climbed onto the chair and gently touched her ankle, pressing her thumb against the bulge of the bone.
– No one here will harm you if you obey. Get down before the eunuchs arrive. They won't be gentle like me, Hannah said in Hebrew.
Now that she was closer to the girl, Hannah could see her heart-shaped face and quivering lips. She glimpsed her delicate collarbones through the frayed fabric of the garment. The girl was too thin, and her stomach was bulging from malnutrition. The skin on the knees was stretched like the skin of a drum.
– Come down, said Hannah. "Even a mountain lion has to eat." I have a peach in the bag.
Hanna let go of the girl's ankle and stretched out her arms, listening for the sound of a throat being cleared, or worse, the sound of a knife flying through the air. But there was only silence around. Hannah stood on tiptoe. The girl bent slightly and Hana took her hand and squeezed it.
– Be a good girl.
Lightning iron, the knife fell to the floor and hit the wall.
Leia slid to the edge of the ledge and held out her arms. Hannah dropped her to the floor. She was heavier than Mateo, but not by much.
Hanna then took the peach out of her bag and handed it to Leia. The girl picked it up, smelled it, and began to take big bites, the juice running down his chin.
– It's from my garden – said Hannah. – The first of the season.
They heard the door unlock and Mustafa entered the room. On either side of him was a eunuch with a blue turban.
– There will be no need for them, Mustafa. As you can see, Leia is calm.
He looked at the girl:
– Okay. Then you will have your work to do.
He turned to go out with the eunuchs, but first he stooped and picked up the knife and put it back in his belt. The air stirred. One of the girl's locks of hair fell to the floor from the ledge.
– May Allah be with you – Mustafa said, bowed and left the room, closing the door behind him.
– Don't lock the door, Mustafa. No need, said Hannah. She heard several voices in the corridor as he spoke to the eunuchs. To her relief, she didn't hear the latch creak.
– There are two eunuchs in front, Hannah. If you need, just call them - Mustafa shouted through the door.
– Leia will be sensible – Hana replied and met the girl's gaze.
Even before Mustafa's footsteps moved away, Leia said:
– I hate it. His raspy voice, his thick hips, his gait.
– Mustafa didn't want to be a eunuch, just like you didn't want to be sold as a slave.
Leia wiped her face with the sleeve of her robe. Her color was indeterminate-the color of street dogs, of overused dish rags, of poorly preserved cheese.
– Do you know how Arab slave traders turn young boys into eunuchs? Without waiting for an answer, Hannah continued. - When Mustafa was nine years old, he was captured by a slave trader along with several of his cousins outside their village near Lake Chad while they were swimming. Mustafa and the other boys were shackled across the chest and upper legs. Their private parts were cut off, and then the boys were buried up to their necks in sand. They were not given water for nine days. When they dug up Mustafa, he was almost dead. Only he survived of all the boys.
– Did you notice the golden feather on his turban? He has to get it into his body so he can urinate.
The harsh expression disappeared from Leia's beautiful face and her bottom lip twitched.
– The Arabs took him to Alexandria, where they sold him for ten times what they would have paid for an ordinary boy. It was then resold in various markets until it finally reached Constantinople.
Hanna wanted with this story to give the girl courage, to show her that misfortune can be overcome, but Leia looked so upset that Hanna regretted her words.
– Why did Mustafa send you?
– I need to examine you to make sure you are a virgin. Hana pointed to the sofa. – Take off your clothes and tell me how old you are.
The girl stood straight.
– I've lived through fourteen summers, she replied, but she didn't start undressing.
She looked much smaller. The girls from the mountains often looked younger because of the meager food - mostly pilaf and porridge. Many of them had deformed pelvises because of the lack of income.
Leia was not ready for the Sultan's bed. Most likely, she had not yet matured and become a woman. Should Hana have dared to suggest to the valide sultan that the sultan should wait a year or two until the girl grew up? She thought about it. What an absurd idea. The earthly shadow of Allah to be refused? If he wanted a girl, he had to raise a finger and she was his. Replacing Leia with another wouldn't solve the problem either. Hannah, like everyone else, had heard the story of a Circassian slave girl who, years ago, sold her date with the old Sultan Selim to another girl. No one saw the Circassian slave again. Hannah had an idea that gave her hope. The Sultan, who was surrounded by the most beautiful girls in the empire, was like a gardener who refused to pluck any other flower except one - Safiye.