Wednesday, December 26, 2007

David I. Kertzer

Sarah F. Gold interviewed David I. Kertzer for Publishers Weekly.

The introduction and one exchange from their dialogue:

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.

Read the full Q & A.

Kertzer's Amalia’s Tale is due out in March 2008. Visit David I. Kertzer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue