Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

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.

My Review

4.5 Stars

Opening in a small village in the Italian Alps in the early 20th century, Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's Wife tells the story of Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli, who meet as teenagers and have an instant connection.   That connection, however, is abruptly severed as Ciro is forced to flee to America after discovering the village priest in a compromising situation.   As Ciro embraces his new life as a shoemaker's apprentice in New York City, Enza, thinking Ciro was sent to a work house in Rome, is left behind to wonder what might have been.  Before long, in an effort to support her family and give them the home they've always longed for, she sets sail for the United States with her father in the hopes of earning her family some much needed money.   While her father heads west to secure work for himself, Enza assumes the role of servant in the Hoboken, New Jersey home of the distant cousin who sponsored her arrival in the United States, while also putting her sewing skills to use by working as a seamstress in a garment factory.  Enza, however, dreams of a better life and hopes to secure a position as a seamstress in New York City, eventually becoming one with the world famous Metropolitan Opera House.   Despite moving in very different circles, Enza and Ciro's paths continue to cross.   While they remain drawn to one another, circumstances keep them apart.   Just when it seems they are fated to take completely different paths, one that will separate them for good, Enza makes a decision that changes both of their lives. 

In Ciro and Enza, Adriana Trigiani has created two remarkably well-drawn, genuinely likeable characters.  In fact, I almost instantly fell in love with both them and their stories.   The novel's supporting characters, particularly Ciro's brother Eduardo and Enza's best friend Laura Heery, are equally compelling.   The strength of this novel rests with Trigiani's lovely descriptive prose, which creates a strong sense of place, whether it be the serenity and beauty of the Italian Alps, the bustle of early 20th century New York City or small town Minnesota in the dead of winter.   Trigiani also does an excellent job of capturing the immigrant experience, showing not only how difficult it was for immigrants to uproot from the only homes they have ever known in order to take advantage of the opportunities afforded in a different country, but also to show the hard-earned rewards gained after years of sacrifice and hard-work.   This novel brings to life a journey that results in the realization of the American dream.   While Trigiani's descriptive prose creates a strong sense of place, it doesn't create a very strong sense of time, particularly in the early part of the novel where, if not for the indication of the year included in the book, I would have been left wondering when the novel is set.  This, however, is the only weakness and it does diminish once the setting moves to the United States.  

Overall, The Shoemaker's Wife is a beautifully written novel that tells the story of two unforgettable characters.   This is book that is sure to appeal to fans all fans of historical fiction.   Indeed, this novel has become one of my favourites and and I've recommended it to others.   This the first book I've read by Adriana Trigiani but it definitely won't be the last. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way influenced my opinion of the novel. 

The Shoemaker's Wife is on tour -- the schedule can be found here: http://tlcbooktours.com/2012/03/adriana-trigiani-author-of-the-shoemakers-wife-on-tour-april-2012/

To find out more about author Adriana Trigiani you can find her on her website at www.adrianatrigiani.com, on her Facebook page or through Twitter.