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Amalia's Tale: A Poor Peasant, an Ambitious Attorney, and a Fight for Justiceby David I Kertzer
Synopses & Reviews
National Book Award finalist Kertzer presents the unforgettable true story and landmark case of a woman's struggle for basic human rights in 19th-century Italy. "Amalia's Tale" chronicles a rural woman whose life was ruined and the lawyer who would not stop until he had seen justice done.
"In this absorbing account, Amalia Bagnacavalli's tale is a horrific one. An impoverished Italian peasant in the late 19th century, Amalia was hired as a wet nurse and contracted syphilis from the infant assigned her by a Bologna foundling home. She in turn spread the disease to her husband and their baby daughter and sons. Her plight was common, Kertzer notes, in a Europe plagued for centuries by poverty, prostitution, venereal disease and legal-religious mores that forced unwed mothers to give up their newborns to institutions where they would be nursed by strangers. But Amalia took the very modern step of suing the foundling home and its aristocratic board, helped by a young lawyer eager to impose a scientific, bureaucratically controlled regimen on an antiquated welfare system. Amalia's court victory over the Italian medical establishment was no feel-good triumph of justice: her lawyer screwed her out of every penny of the huge settlement she won, and the system of bottle-feeding prompted by her suit killed most of the foundlings subjected to it. Like Kertzer's much-praised The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Amalia's story is a rich social history, in which new values clash with old in an Italy wracked by the fitful march of progress." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
This quintessential David-and-Goliath saga tells the story of a wholly unexpected triumph of the poor against the rich and of a crusading city attorney who fought on behalf of an impoverished peasant.
Amalia Bagnacavalli, an illiterate young peasant from the mountains near Bologna, is forced by poverty to take in a child from the citys foundling home to wet-nurse. When Amalia contracts syphilis from the sickly and malformed baby given to her, the city fathers callously dismiss her pleas for treatment and restitution.
Bewildered and frightened, she seeks out Augusto Barbieri, an ambitious attorney looking to make a name for himself. He takes up Amalias cause, fighting the case for years through the Italian courts before winning an unprecedented and stunning victory for his by now broken client. The unforgettable story of a landmark struggle for basic human rights, Amalias Tale is the moving drama of a rural woman whose life was ruined and the man from the city who would not stop — or so it seemed — until he had seen justice done.
About the Author
David I. Kertzer is the author of, among other books, Prisoner of the Vatican, The Popes Against the Jews, and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, winner of the National Jewish Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. He is provost of Brown University and professor of anthropology and Italian studies.
Table of Contents
Prologue ix 1. An Unexpected Visitor 1 2. The Fateful Day 11 3. The First Signs 19 4. Suing the Count 31 5. The Mercury Treatment 42 6. The Trial Begins 48 7. Disputing the Doctor 55 8. The Parade of the Syphilitic Peasants 66 9. The Psychiatrists Attack 74 10. The Miserly Syphilologist 81 11. A New Champion 89 12. Conflicting Opinions 98 13. The Tribunal Decides 106 14. Amalias Appeal 116 15. The Loan 125 16. The Counteroffensive 132 17. Mixed News from the Supreme Court 138 18. A Split Decision 151 19. A Staggering Sum 157 20. Amalias Lawyer Submits His Bill 164 21. Lives Lost and Lives Saved 173 22. Aristocrats, Lawyers, Doctors, and Peasants: Amalia Looks Back 182
Postscript: Recovering Buried History 190 Acknowledgments 199 Notes 201 Sources 204 Index 228
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