I saw our library had gotten this new book in some months back, but the cover really put me off. I could tell it wasn’t ‘my kind’ of book.
But then…after a reading slump, of picking up several books and discarding them after thirty or forty or fifty pages for another day, I decided to give this one a try.
Several reviewers have raved about “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. On the back of the hardcover edition there is a quote from Kathryn Stockett, of “The Help” fame, who endorses this novel : “If you’re meeting her (Trigiani’s) work for the first time, get ready for a lifelong love affair.”
Book reviewers also mention that the novel, at 470 pages, is a little too long (a comment I agree with). I made it to the 300th page and felt like I was ‘done’….but the story went on for another hundred and fifty pages or so.
However, I finished reading it, and I did enjoy this book. The author’s love of Italy, Italian cooking (don’t read this if you are hungry. Too tempting to try some of the pasta dishes she mentions so often!), and NYC and its opera, Greenwich Village….immigration. World War I. Family. It’s all in there, folks.
But also in there are some coincidences that the reader is going to have to put aside some disbelief while reading about….which wasn’t too difficult for me, because I was just ready to read and enjoy a good story.
“The Shoemaker’s Wife” is a dual story, of Ciro, and Enza, the two main characters who came from the same area in the northern mountain villages of Italy. The author’s descriptions of what it could have been like through the characterization of Enza and her father, to arrive in America and go through Ellis Island, were believable and interesting for me. (Harder for me to believe was that mere sea sickness was enough to keep Enza from travelling back over the ocean to ever visit her family in Italy again. Just from sea sickness?)
“If only Enza had known that this would be the last time she’d descend this mountain and overlook the gorge, she might have paid closer attention. If she had known that this would be the last time her mother held her in her arms, she might have clung to her more tightly….
Enza would have done everything differently. She would have taken her time to acknowledge that one part of her life was ending and a new era had begun. She would have held Alma’s hand longer, given Eliana the gold chain she had always coveted, and told one final joke to Vittorio… Maybe, if she knew what lay ahead, she would never have made the decision to leave Schilpario in the first place.”
And Ciro. Ciro, the young man who came to America, left at a young age with his brother in a convent because his mother could no longer care for him, now pursuing the American dream:
“Ciro had fallen in love with the craft of shoemaking. Remo was a fine teacher, and a capable master craftsman. Through his instruction, Ciro discovered that he enjoyed the arithmetic of measurements, the touch of the leather and suede, the feel of the machines, and the delight of the customers when he made a boot that fit, after a lifetime of ones that didn’t. Ciro began to appreciate fine workmaship as an art form unto itself. The painstaking craft of building a proper boot or shoe from simple elements gave Ciro a purpose he had never known before.”
But war looms on the horizon, a world war that will call many to the fight, and Ciro will be one of them. Although he will survive the war, it will have a lasting and lifelong effect on him.
“Ciro understood why they needed ten thousand men a day shipped from America to do battle on the fields of France. They were determined to win by sheer numbers, with or without a solid plan for victory. Some men, without a plan in place, began to cling to their dreams. Others began to see death as a way out of the horror of what they were living through. But not Ciro; he endured the cold fever of fear because he knew he must go home again.”
How Ciro, a character that loves his amorous pursuits, finds true and lasting love, how he learns to be faithful (truly, his love affairs are a bit much for me, and a contrast to Enza who keeps herself for marraige….however, for those readers who prefer a ‘clean read’, there are no graphic love scenes in this novel), and pursue his dreams, building his shoemaking business, makes for an interesting read that cuts across many themes; family, friendships, love and loss, loyalty, hard work and art forms, America’s promise and development of a melting pot of cultures, and the assimilation of tradition and cultures.
At times the sentimental nature of the read can be a bit ‘much’…. but I appreciate the author’s attempts to build a story that teaches the value of family in the midst of great hardship and perseverance.
“For a fleeting instant, her heart filled with affection for the girl she had once been. The girl who’d left her village, and worked hard, and week after week faithfully sent the largest portion of her pay to her mother, enough money, over time, to build the family home, a gift in honor of the gift of her very own life. And she would do it all over again. Didn’t she deserve a prize for it? Wasn’t the prize a New York City life with all its sophistication and shine, on the arm of a man who loved her?”
Adriana Trigiani’s grandparents came ‘from villages in the Italian Alps five miles apart, but they met for the first time in Hoboken, New Jersey’. This novel is her attempt to write a story that included much of their past, while paying tribute to all immigrants everywhere who built a new life on the shores of the American dream.