Lately I’ve been reading novels set in early modern Europe. Two that I highly recommend take place as the bubonic plague returns to Venice in the devastating outbreak of 1575-77. These unrelated books by different authors have striking parallels.
In The Venetian Bargain by Marina Fiorato (St. Martin’s Press, 2014), Feyra is the doctor for the sultan’s harem in Constantinople. She arrives in Venice on the same ship that brings the deadly contagion. Although she knows a way to protect healthy people from infection, as a Muslim infidel she must flee for her life through the piazzas and canals.
Hannah, the Jewish protagonist of The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich (Gallery Books, 2012), uses nontraditional methods to help women of the ghetto through difficult childbirths. Those same methods expose her to charges of witchcraft after she agrees to help a Christian woman illegally, in return for a fee large enough to ransom her captive husband. She too must run and hide for her life.
Like the best historical novels, these immerse the reader in a distant world. Sadly, suspicion and threats toward minorities aren’t quite as distant as I’d wish.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.