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.For years I have been hearing how good Adriana Trigiani is. Some of my favourite bloggers are big fans and there are always lots of really enthusiastic reviews for her books. I did read another book by her last year and I liked it, but after reading The Shoemaker's Wife I get it....I really get it!
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.
The Shoemaker's Wife was inspired by the author's grandparents story, and you can really see that she is invested in the story that she is telling.
Our story starts when we meet Ciro and his brother Eduardo. Their mother is taking them to a convent in small town in the Alps in Northern Italy. Their father has died (they think) in a mining accident in America and she can no longer provide for them and so she takes them to the nuns to be educated and nurtured into adulthood. Whilst both boys miss their parents terribly, they are cared for well by the nuns. Eduardo is more sombre and studious whereas Ciro is a much more physical presence.
Ciro is asked to go up to another small town further up the mountain to dig a grave, and at that time he meets Enza. There is an instant connection between the two of them, and who knows, if fate hadn't conspired against them, the story might have begun and ended right there. However, like all star-crossed lovers nothing is as simple as that.
As a result of an issue that Ciro has with the local priest he is sent away to start a new life in America and Eduardo joins the church. Ciro is sent to a relative of one of the nuns to learn a trade. He is to become a shoemaker's apprentice.
Enza also makes her way to America, travelling with her father to try and earn enough money to send back to her family in Italy so that they can build their house and business up. Enza's father goes on to work in other states, leaving Enza to make her own way in life. After a rough start, Enza makes friends with Laura and the two girls become each other's support and strength and they soon manage to get to New York, find somewhere to live and jobs working in the Metropolitan Opera. They are exposed to the glamour of the opera and to get to know many of the stars including the amazing Enrico Caruso.
There are a couple of other meet ups between Ciro and Enza along the way, and each time the connection is clear and strong, but again, fate and also World War I, get in the way of our young couple. Ciro is something of a ladies man, and Enza doesn't sit waiting for Ciro to come to his senses. As a result, the scene where finally all the stars align is both dramatic and poignant.
The next part of the book brings a move to another new location when Enza and Ciro move to Minnesota. Ciro builds up his business with the help of his business partner and friend, and also with the active involvement of Enza who uses her skills as a dressmaker and her natural affinity for people to help the family to settle into their new home and to thrive.
Structurally, the book is divided into three clear parts and each part has a different feel in a way. What connects the three parts are the strong characters, the strong sense of location whether it be Italy, New York or Minnesota, and the way that Trigiani is able to bring the senses to life with her descriptions of food, of fabrics, of music and of flora.
Whilst this book is sad (yes, I cried on the train in public again at the end of this book) there is also an overriding sense of joy. The author manages to evoke the emotions without having the book become maudlin even as the events of World War I come back to haunt the family in ways that could never be expected.
I gave this book a rating of 4.5/5. This book counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and for the War Through the Generations challenge.
I thought for a bit of fun I might see if I could find a video of Enrico Caruso who plays such an important part in the life of Enza in particular. I lucked out when I found a clip of both his voice, and also images of New York at around the time that Enza would have been living there! I actually wasn't sure that I would know the song that was used in the clip, until it started and I realised that it was a song that is used in a TV ad for a pasta sauce brand here. See, I am more cultured than I realised!
Cross posted at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for the review copy