07 April 2012

The Shoemaker's Wife; Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife: A Novel
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This work of historical fiction is the author's love letter to her grandparents and the Italian immigrant experience. Ciro is a boy who has recently lost his father and his mother is so deeply depressed and without money that she leaves him and his brother in the care of the nuns; Enza is part of a large family further up the Alp from Ciro, they precariously eking out a living as a carriage-for-hire. When Enza's youngest sibling, Stella, dies, Ciro is sent to dig her grave - the two fall in love.

However, for various reasons, both end up separated, heading to America. Enza gets very ill on the voyage over, and she and Ciro meet again at the hospital (he's punctured his hand with his shoemaking tools); once again, they separate and only meet two or three times before the Great War comes. Following the war, Ciro meets Enza on her wedding day and persuades her to give up her finance, her career as a Metropolitan Opera House seamstress (and sometime cook for Enrico Caruso), and travel West to Montana to start a new life. Of course there's much more, like the friends they make, the careers they have and their life in Montana.

The thing is, at the start of the book Ciro's voice rings very true. He is a lost, angry, abandoned boy who takes incredible pride in his work and in making a place for himself with the nuns. As he ages, however, that voice doesn't change, and by the time he's 35 and back in Italy he still has the interior monologue of an 11-year-old. Enza does change and grow, not as much as one might have liked, but you can see in her younger self the capable, steady, loving person the adult will be. The historical fiction brings to vivid life their childhoods in Northern Italy, but once they arrive in New York there's none of the prejudice that we know existed (it is entirely plausible that they were lucky and didn't experience it, but no mention of it? that rang false).

ARC provided by publisher.

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