Birthing a new breed of non-fiction

Rosina, the Midwife traces historic roots of an immigrant family and the woman who started it all

Author Jessica Kluthe traced her grandmother's roots.

When Jessica Kluthe met her great-great-grandmother, Rosina, for the first time, it was standing above her grave in Calabria, Italy. The woman had been dead long before Kluthe was even born, yet the moment hit Kluthe with a grief reserved for those who had grown up in each others’ lives — the Victoria author had, after all, spent the last four years fully enmeshed with Rosina, and recently bore her new book out of the experience.

Rosina, the Midwife traces the historic roots of a family leaving the south of Italy to come to Canada. Yet it is Rosina, a Calabrian matriarch, who became the only one to remain in Italy after the mass migration of the 1950s — a time when millions of Italians left their homeland in search of work. With no formal training, but plenty of experience, Rosina worked alone 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, and, over the course of her long career, helped bring hundreds of infants into the world.

“I hope that Rosina’s story can shed light on all the women’s stories in that era that are just as rich, and so often have gone untold,” says Kluthe, who started the creative non-fiction book as her graduate thesis in UVic’s Masters of Writing program. “So many Canadians do have an immigrant history, and when you look back and see the connections there is this universal element to leaving a place forever and staring over.”

The story opens with Kluthe first stumbling upon a photo of Rosina she finds in a pile of old boxes long stored away under a stairwell of her parents’ house. She knows only vague things about the woman yet, as the story unfolds into Kluthe’s own intimate connection, finding out more becomes urgently important.

“One of the most frustrating things that I never expected was that everything was different when I got there [to Calabria]. I had all these images in my head and in the story that I’d constructed, but a lot of the reality wasn’t like that,” she says. “Then, we couldn’t get into the actual house that Rosina lived in, which really upset me at the time. What was funny, was that through imagination and story I could inhabit the place in a way that, being there, I couldn’t.”

Kluthe says the moment that hit her hardest was seeing Rosina’s grave.

“The documents that attest to our existence are very reductive,” says Kluthe. “‘This woman lived and died here’ doesn’t even start to sum up those who were impacted by her hands, the people she helped, the lives she birthed. Story is the place to fill that in.”

Along with Kluthe’s own journey, Rosina, the Midwife displays the drama her entire ancestral family dealt with at the time: great-grandfather, Generoso, labouring through the harsh Edmonton winter to save enough money to buy passage to Canada for his wife and children; grandmother, Rose, huddled in a third-class cabin, sick from the motion of the boat; and Rosina, forced to say goodbye, one by one, to the people she loved.

Despite the separation of place and time, Kluthe manages to deliver a glowing piece of history, swaddled in poetic grace and raw with newly birthed emotion.

“While we seem to be a new country, we all come from ancient places,” Kluthe says. “It’s a true gift to explore that.” M

 

Find Rosina, the Midwife now at all major bookstores through Brindle & Glass Publishing Ltd., 216 pages, paperback, $19.95; or on e-book for $14.99.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Advocates call hospital parking fees a ‘shakedown’ after learning most Island tickets are waived

Victoria General and Royal Jubilee hospitals among the most ticketed on the Island

University of Victoria tells stories of Holocaust survivors with graphic novels

International storytelling initiative launched first meetings this winter

Consumer bankruptcies down in Greater Victoria

More residents are making alternative arrangements to settle their debts

Province asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ in screening for possible coronavirus cases

This comes after U.S. health officials confirmed a case of the virus in Washington State

Victoria man out $6,000 in latest gift card phone scam

Fraudsters claimed to be a member of a bank’s “fraud sting team”

VIDEO: Protesters block entrance to Victoria government building to support Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Activists want Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs demands to be upheld, observed and respected

Boy, 13, arrested after alleged assault involving girl at B.C. middle school

Boy alleged to have used ‘inappropriate levels of force’ to injure the girl

B.C. player becomes only second Canadian to enter Hall of Fame of Baseball

Walker received 76.6 percent of the Baseball Writers of America Association vote

PHOTOS: Heavy snowfall breaks window, causing avalanche into B.C. newsroom office

It was a chaotic start to the week for the Kitimat Northern Sentinel

Canadian law firm launches class action on behalf of Iran flight victims

Flight 752 was shot down by Iran shortly after take off

Mission Hill cellarman fired after mistakenly dumping $162K of wine down the drain

The former employee filed a grievance with the West Kelowna winery but was unsuccesful

Police suspect foul play in Cowichan Tribes death

Police are looking at foul play in relation to a death on… Continue reading

Hospital patient pleads guilty to dumbbell assault of nurse in Abbotsford

Neale Heath admits to assault causing bodily harm in attack last September

Most Read