The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Dutton ISBN 9780593183328
Hardcover, $28, 439 pages
Adriana Trigiani's novel, The Good Left Undone is an epic, sweeping story about a family of artisans in Tuscany, Italy. The Cabrelli family has been creating and selling beautiful jewelry for generations, and now Matelda, the elderly matriarch, is reflecting on her life as her 25 year-old granddaughter Anina is questioning the choices she has made in her own life. The story is told in present day and in the days leading up to WWII where Domenica is a young nurse who runs afoul of the local parish priest and is sent away from her family to Marseille, France to work with nuns in a hospital. She meets handsome Scottish sea merchant captain John McVicars there and quickly falls in love.
As war approaches France, Domenica is sent to Scotland, and then Liverpool, England, where Italians are sent to an internment camp because the British government feels they can't be trusted, as Mussolini has aligned Italy with the Nazis. Trigiani once again gives us a fantastic generational family story, and layers in a historical lesson that many of us did not know- Italians (many whom had lived in England and Scotland for years) were rounded up and imprisoned based solely on their heritage. (Susan Elia MacNeal's The King's Justice dealt with this topic as well.) This is similar to what the United States did to people of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor.
One of the best things about reading an Adriana Trigiani novel is that it is a treat for all of your senses.You can hear the tents snapping in the wind at Carnevale, smell apple strudel baking, taste the delicious cherry cake (I would love that recipe!), and see in your mind's eye the beautifully crafted jewelry "glistening like ribbon candy" in its case.
As someone who grew up attending Catholic school, I appreciated the nuns in the story. The care they provided as nurses to their charges, the kindness they showed to Domenica, the strength they exhibit, these are the women I grew up knowing. One of my favorite scenes occurs when Anina and her fiancé go to their parish priest for advice. The priest is a wise man, who listens to their concerns and relates his best advice- "Forgive.Forget.Repeat."
At a time when we have all missed seeing our family- parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles- falling into this big, beautiful book about, as Matelda says, how "a family is only as strong as its stories" will encourage us to share our own family's stories with each other. And as Father Fracassi says, we must "reflect on the past, (and) make peace with it. You cannot control the evil done to you. You cannot turn back and right the good left undone." There is so much to ponder in The Good Left Undone, it's the kind of book that once you turn the last page, you want to immediately begin to reread it. I give it my highest recommendation.