Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publisher: Harpers, 2012
It is time for a “summer read.” When the weather gets this hot there is nothing to do but try to find a cool, shady place where one can curl up, cool drink in hand, with a nice long romance novel (I believe I made this exact suggestion last summer. Must be a good one and worth repeating). Throw in a little history and you can tell anyone who asks that you are reading an historical novel, which somehow makes it seem as though you have not totally given in to the weather, but are also in the process of enriching your mind. It will only be true in the most literal way as “The Shoemaker’s Wife” is mostly a romance novel and any history you might learn will be entirely painless. There is nothing pedantic about this book, I assure you.
I first read one of Adriana Trigiani’s novels in 2001 when I picked up “Big Stone Gap” at the library. It didn’t take me long to become a fan of hers and I have read every novel she has written since then. Although the warmth of her style of writing does not change in “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” the locale certainly does, as does the length of the book. Her first book was a mere 320 pages and set in Virginia. Her latest stretches out to almost 500 delightful pages and takes its reader from the Italian Alps, to Little Italy in Manhattan and on to Hibbing, Minnesota.
We first meet Eduardo and Ciro Lazzari in the early 1900’s, when, as very young boys, they are left in the care of the nuns at the convent San Nicola in Vilminor, Italy. It is thought that their father had died in the mines of Minnesota where he had gone to try to make money to support the family and their mother is no longer able to care for them. The nuns quickly take them under their wings and they live a well loved, and cared for life. Eduardo leans towards learning the biblical and spiritual ways of the church, whereas Ciro is more taken with learning how to cook and garden and care for the physical church itself. Despite their longing for the return of their mother, who has made an unfulfilled promise to come back and get them, they make a happy, devoted life for themselves with the nuns until one day Ciro sees a priest doing something that totally shocks him. When the priest discovers that he has been seen he quickly arranges for both Ciro and Eduardo to be sent away. Eduardo is to be sent to become a priest, which does not upset him too much as he had been considering the priesthood anyway, but arrangements are made to send Ciro to a boy’s work house. Both young men are devastated to be separated. Luckily, the nuns intervene and make arrangements for Ciro to set sail to America.
During Ciro’s time at the convent one of the duties he undertakes to earn extra money is to walk miles up the mountain to dig a grave for a young child who has died. There he meets her sister, Enza Ravanelli. Although both are very young, an immediate spark is lit as both take to one another. And thus starts a love that threads itself all through this wonderful book. Enza also goes to America with her father, Marco, to try to earn money to build a home for the Ravanellis in Italy.
After their separate arrivals in America, Ciro joins with a shoemaker to learn the trade and Enza gets a position utilizing her talents as a seamstress making costumes for the opera at the Metropolitan at a time when Enrico Caruso is at his peak. Time and time again Ciro and Enza touch each other’s lives and time after time fortune, or misfortune, separates them. Each time your heart will break for them. Each time you will say to yourself, “If only…”
You will see each of their separate journeys from their trip within the holds of their ships taking them to America, where Enza becomes so ill she almost dies, to their experience passing through Ellis Island. In Little Italy, both learn to make new lives in this alien land as they try to assimilate themselves to the ways of their new home. Many times their lives will briefly intersect only to have their potential for love of one another be thwarted once again.
I won’t tell you if they ever finally get together. That wouldn’t be fair. See for yourself. This is a perfect example of a book to carry you through many days of summer reading. Just the thing you were looking for.
Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter