Read the full Q & A.
In Amalia’s Tale ... David Kertzer tells how in 1890 an illiterate Italian peasant woman — who contracted syphilis from wet-nursing a foundling — took on Bologna’s social and medical elite.
Both with Amalia’s Tale and your earlier The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, you show a knack for finding stories that were sensational in their time but then forgotten.
This is such a dramatic phenomenon: women in large numbers who were getting infected with syphilis [from nursing foundlings]. The question was, was there a way to tell the story in a rich enough manner to make it come alive. [Unlike the Mortara kidnapping] this was a story that the authorities did everything possible to hush up, and the principal, as a peasant, was powerless. I was fortunate because, as I dug further and further, I found a treasure trove of materials in an unexpected way for such an obscure person. One thing I discovered while doing the Mortara book was how vital and rich court records can be in providing insight into the powerless and illiterate people of the past.
Kertzer's Amalia’s Tale is due out in March 2008. Visit David I. Kertzer's website.