Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New in Paperback: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani


The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Harper Paperbacks  ISBN 978-0-06-1257100
Trade paperback $15.99

The first thing you notice about Adriana Trigiani's newest novel, The Shoemaker's Wife, is the stunning cover. A gorgeous woman in a tangerine colored gown strikes a dramatic pose against a wallpapered print that evokes the beauty of an Italian village. The first time I saw it, it literally took my breath away.

I have read many of Trigiani's books, starting with the Big Stone Gap series, through the Valentine series, stand alone books like Rococco, and her non-fiction book about her grandmothers titled Don't Sing at the Table, and enjoyed them all, but all of the those books so clearly led her to write this masterpiece, her best book yet, The Shoemaker's Wife.

Some writers are better at story (John Grisham, for example), others excel at writing memorable characters; in my mind, no author is better than Trigiani at writing the setting of the story. We fell in love with the small town of Big Stone Gap in Virginia and all of the wonderful people who lived there. In the Valentine series, we were a part of Greenwich Village, and made unforgettable visits to Italy and Argentina.

Trigiani's writing is so vivid and visual, you can picture each setting so clearly in your mind, you feel like you've taken a trip there yourself. Clothing, shoes and interior design have also played a part in many of her books, and I have often lamented that there were no illustrations of the beautiful things that were being described.

In The Shoemaker's Wife, we begin early in the 20th century in the Italian Alps, both beautiful and dangerous. Young Ciro Lazzari and his older brother Eduardo are being sent to a convent following the death of their father, who was working in a mine in America. Their grieving mother was unable to to care for them.

At the convent, Ciro learned to work with his hands, doing all of the chores that the nuns needed. Eduardo took to the prayer and ritual of religious life. The relationship between the brothers is so well-written; they were very different from and yet devoted to each other.

Young Enza lived with her family on the mountain. They did not have much money, but her father scraped out a living ferrying people up and down the mountain with his horse and carriage.

Ciro meets Enza when he is sent to dig a grave for Enza's young sister who died tragically. They share time together and a special connection is made between the two. Ciro runs afoul of the local priest when he sees him in an embrace with a young girl. The priest wants Ciro gone, and the nuns send him to America.

Enza and her father also emigrate to America to make enough money to send home to build a family home. They are sad to leave their family behind, but know that if they work hard and save all their money, they will return home soon.

Ciro becomes a shoemaker's apprentice in Greenwich Village. Enza works in a clothing factory, a sweatshop where she makes a lifelong friend in Irish immigrant Laura. Over the years, Ciro and Enza run into each other, and although they both have feelings for each other, they are kept apart for many reasons.

Enza and Laura get the opportunity of a lifetime when they are chosen to work as seamstresses at the Metropolitan Opera. Enza's creativity gets her noticed, and she is thrilled to be able to design for Enrico Caruso, the international star of the Met.

This section of the novel soars. The excitement of New York City, the grandeur of the opera house, the lovely boarding house where Enza and Laura live, the gorgeous costumes they create; I was swept away with the beauty of it all.

Enza and Ciro are star-crossed lovers, but you can tell by the title of the book that they are fated to be together. They are hard-working immigrants and when an opportunity to make a better life in Minnesota arises, they take it.

These characters are based in part on Trigiani's grandparents. Reading this book will encourage many people to talk to their grandparents and great-grandparents, to hear their stories, which are probably very similiar. Isn't it funny how we never think of our grandparents as young people, in love and trying to build a life, but they are precisely the people who built our country.

Trigiani hits the nail on the head with her depiction of Enza and Ciro's marriage; it isn't always easy, no matter how much in love they are. There is one scene near the end that takes place among Ciro, Enza and their son that just broke my heart, and the beauty and sadness of it was both private and universal at the same time.

She writes so many thoughtful passages; as the mother of two sons, this one particularly touched me:
"A man need his father more as life progresses, not less. It is not enough to learn how to use a lathe, milk a cow, repair a roof; there are greater holes to mend, deeper wells to fill, that only a father's wisdom can sustain. A father teaches his son how to think a problem through, how to lead a household, how to love his wife. A father sets an example for his son, building his character from the soul outward."
The Shoemaker's Wife is Adriana Trigiani's most magnificent work yet. As beautiful on the inside as the cover is on the outside, it moved me immensely. This is the book I will put into all of my family and friends' hands, saying "you must read this!"

rating 5 of 5 stars


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