Title: Rosina, The Midwife
Author: Jessica Kluthe
Date(s) read: October 1 – 5, 2013
Source: Purchased (Paperback)
Between 1870 and 1970, twenty-six million Italians left their homeland and travelled to places like Canada, Australia, and the United States, in search of work. Many of them never returned to Italy.
Rosina, the Midwife traces the author’s family history, from their roots in Calabria in the south of Italy to their new home in Canada. Against this historic background, comes the story of Rosina, a Calabrian matriarch and the author’s great-great-grandmother, the only member of the Russo family to remain in Italy after the mass migration of the 1950s. With no formal training, but plenty of experience, Rosina worked as a midwife in an area where there was only one doctor to serve three villages. She was given the tools needed to deliver and baptize babies by the doctor and the local priest, and, over the course of her long career, she helped bring hundreds of infants into the world.
Enhancing the stories and memories passed down through her family with meticulous research, Kluthe has, with great insight, created not only Rosina’s story, but also the entire Russo family’s. We see her great-grandfather Generoso labouring through the harsh Edmonton winter to save enough money to buy passage to Canada for his wife and children; we glimpse her grandmother Rose huddled in a third-class cabin, sick from the motion of the boat that will carry her to a new land; and we watch, teary-eyed, as her great-great-grandmother Rosina is forced to say goodbye, one by one, to the people she loves.
The author’s quest to find the details of Rosina’s life, despite the separation of place and time and the uncertainty of memory, has created a poetic elsewhere story and a charming memoir that is at once a Canadian story and a Calabrian one.
When I go to the bookstore, I’m usually on a mission. In this case, the other week, I was on a mission to find some local authors. Prior to this trip, I had become very interested in the local talent my city has to offer and knew I had to get in the game and start reading it. Unfortunately, the bookstore was VERY slim pickings, so I only came out with a couple books — Rosina, The Midwife being one of them.
I had heard of this story through Laura over at Reading In Bed and knew I would love it. It may have been because I’m pregnant, but the idea of reading about a midwife intrigued me. AND, just like Laura, I was expecting fiction. Colour me surprised when I found the book in the biography section of the bookstore and learned it was the story about Jessica Kluthe’s great-great-grandmother Rosina, as well as Jessica’s journey to discovering her roots.
I was a little skeptical after learning it was a biographical story, but I bought it and read it … and loved it. There’s something about stories where someone is tracking their family tree, getting to know their roots, that I love. It might be because I’m adopted and really don’t know much about where my blood comes from. Or it might be because I love the idea of a journey, of someone who is so adamant on discovering truths that they’ll dig as deep as they can go.
I loved the setting for the story. First of all, Jessica is a local author, so Edmonton is her hometown, but her family comes from Italy. We get a bit of both worlds as well as the question, why Edmonton? Canada is such a huge place that it was interesting to find out why her family decided to uproot in Italy and move here. Not only that, but we get a bit of a history of the city in regards to the Italian-Canadians who immigrated here. I loved reading about the Italian influences in the city.
So, really, this book isn’t completely about Rosina, nor is it totally about births and babies. But there’s one instant in the author’s life that makes her want to know more about her past in order to really understand her future. I loved the need, the drive, behind Jessica’s desire to find out more about her family and her journey had me competely entranced.
This is the perfect non-fiction book for fiction lovers. Jessica’s voice is completely accessible and the story reads like a story — not like a biographical account of someone’s life. You can actually feel like you’re there with her on her travels and discovering right along with her. A story of strength, dedication, family, and self-discovery, Rosina, The Midwife was fantastic.