New book hits home for Morinville-born author
Rosina the Midwife about family and the immigrant experience
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 06:00 am
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Jessica Kluthe always had a strong sense of family, but there was always one family member who held her fascination.
“My whole life, I’ve been obsessed with Rosina,” she said.
The Morinville-born descendant of Italian immigrants never knew her great-grandmother. The old Calabrian woman was an obstetrician who stayed behind while everyone else in her family left for the New World. She died long before Kluthe was born.
Kluthe spent the last few years conducting intense personal historical research through records and family stories. Now that the great moment of releasing this book has arrived, it sounds like all of that effort has caught up with her.
“It’s actually much busier than I was expecting,” she said, her voice equal measures of joy and exhaustion. “It’s exciting. Everyone’s very supportive. I’ve never felt this much love.”
Most of her energy has gone to all of the media requests and interviews, not to mention all of the preparations behind three major events tied in to the launch of her book. This includes her appearance in Victoria Tuesday as one on a panel of speakers, including Lorna Crozier.
The advanced business writing instructor at Grant MacEwan University added that there is a fair measure of anxiety at the same time, much of which stems from how personal the work is. She admits that it is a lot like having a microscope on her life, but it was a project that she felt she had to undertake, come what may. This is a story that needed to be told.
“I do feel a commitment to telling true stories. As a reader, that’s what I like to read. Once it started, I realized that if I was going to be telling someone else’s story, which was Rosina’s … I felt I had to share equally from what was interesting or compelling me to even seek out her story. I felt I had to share my motivation and do that in full view of the audience so that I wasn’t just exploiting her story.”
There must be so many other stories that are like hers. The book informs us that 26 million Italians left their homeland in the 100 years starting in 1870. That mass exodus helped populate the Prairies and other parts across North America, but one cannot even speculate on the emotional toll of such an emigration, so many people leaving home for the last time to travel to a new one.
Even more unfathomable is how it would be for someone such as Rosina to stay behind, while her entire family departed, one person at a time.
If the geography of Italy were a boot (as so many people often describe it) then the region of Calabria – Kluthe’s family’s homeland – would be the ball of the foot. It seems so very much like the place where a person or an entire people could step off and begin a worldwide journey.
There are so many historical accounts of migration during that time, Kluthe continued.
“So many people left Europe, especially from Italy, to booming post-war economies. We can never experience or really feel what they felt.”
She said it was absolutely critical for her to redevelop those real characters by putting them in action in literary scenes in order for the audience to be engaged and better understand history. It is a raw and creative way to bring history back to life. These vivid scenes make the story all the more powerful.
“That we can’t really get from those raw historical accounts.”
Rosina’s story is also important because it also brings women into the forefront and out of the shadows of men.
She added that most of history is about men because they were the ones going off to jobs while the women were in the background, doing all of the important fundamental work of keeping households stable and families healthy and strong.
To write this story is to pay tribute to the other thousands of women who stood in Rosina’s place too.
“Rosina, in some ways, can stand in for that female experience. By drawing attention to her story, it highlights the fact that there were all of these other stories that didn’t make it into the historical record or that we couldn’t easily find. That was true from the beginning of my research to the end.”
This is her first book, a work of fine non-fiction, tender yet thorough, as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. Her next effort, already in progress, will be a novel. Until then, readers will have to be satisfied with a literary journey into the not so distant past.