The Shoemaker's Wife
The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.
Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.
From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.
Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.
This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.
Hardcover, 475 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Harper
This beautiful novel is an absolutely stunning work of art. A riveting historical epic of love, family, loss, risk and destiny. Just shy of 500 pages, this saga begins in the Italian Alps and takes the reader to Little Italy in NY, the Minnesota Iron Range and the trenches of France. Beautifully written and authentic in artesian charm of its time, the story of two star-crossed lovers and their hardships will make your heart sing, break, and endure with them until they finally find each other….for a little while.
1905 Bergamo, Italy, Caterina Lazzari has to do the unthinkable. She can’t raise her two sons Ciro and Eduardo alone anymore, and drops them off at a convent to live with nuns with the promise to return in a year to pick them back up. As time passes, the boys are mastering different skills. Ciro tends to the fireplaces, milks the cows, makes cheese, chops wood, scrubs wooden floors and shovels coal daily. Eduardo uses his talents in reading and calligraphy, becomes devout and serves as altar boy. Their mother never returns!
Not far from Bergamo, a bit further up in the mountain village of Schilpario, lives Enza, eldest daughter of the Ravenellis with her family and works all the household chores, studies to be a seamstress and helps her dad Marco with his carriage business. But income is very meager.
Ciro and Eduardo become strapping young teenagers. Ciro is sent up the mountain one day, to dig a grave for a funeral. One of Enza’s siblings has passed away. And this is where Ciro meets Enza for the first time. Their ease of conversation and their friendly exchange leaves them both smitten with each other…forever.
Caught witness to something awful at the wrong place and the wrong time, Ciro, as way of eliminating him is to be sent to a work camp. But the nuns love him dearly and put all their money together to get Ciro a ticket of the lowest ship fare to NYC and save him. There, he is to become a shoemaker’s apprentice with a family relative of one of the nuns. He never has a chance to say good-bye to Enza.
Enza’s family is ridden with more hardships. Their landlord isn’t holding up to a bargain that was made years ago, and the family moves to a small other rental home. Their dreams of owning a farm and their own house is ruined. Marco decides to take Enza to America to make money for a year to send back home to make their dreams come true. But Enza gets very sick on the ship and the two of them are separated at NYC harbor. After a long recovery, Enza ends up working in Hoboken NJ at a seamstress factory under the worst conditions. Laura, her supervisor at the factory endures this with Enza and the other girls for a long time, but then decides to take all their savings and work their way to the Opera House in NYC where Enza’s luck and talent begins to flourish.
So the years pass by and both Ciro, Enza and Marco keep working for their dreams. Close in proximity, both in NYC, Ciro’s and Enza’s timing to meet is off….and it continues so for a long time. Ciro goes to War and returns, Enza is successful and almost gets married at the Opera. Marco finally gets to return home and builds that dream home for the family, but will Enza’s and Ciro’s dreams come true? Will they find each other? How about Eduardo and their mother?
Adriana Trigiani superbly masters the palpable and visual details of the different settings in the novel. Scenes and impressions are so vividly brought to life for the senses. The reader can hear the goats in the mountains, smell the ocean in the harbor, immerse into the hustle and bustle of the NYC streets at the turn of the century, feel the grit and soot of the factories as well as experience the glitz and glam of the opera house. Trigiani's writing makes the material feel a reality. The arduous wait and hope for betterment in the NEW World, the unforeseen tragedies happening to the characters and that very long path to love create a tantalizing tug and longing in the reader. It simply is brilliant and deserves the respect with the best of epics.
I loved this novel, if you can’t tell. It reads slow and is mostly void of all the conveniences we have today. There is so much goodness in the people (characters) and that strive to achievement with hard work. Commitment, devotion and endurance were all part of that generation trying to carve their own dominion in the New World. It is that spirit that makes me come back for historical fiction time and time again to lure me into a life lived more simply. Family values, cooking from scratch and taking care of your own is something I have firsthand experienced in Italian families growing up, and this novel holds so true to all I know about Italy and its way of life.
If you are a lover of historical fiction, clear your calendars, make that great pasta meal to have with wine, start this wonderful family saga and finish it off with some Tiramisu and a cappuccino. Va bene! Rilassati e divertiti! Enjoy!