Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: The Shoemaker's Wife

Summary: 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. -- Harper

If you know even a little about me and my love of reading, then you have heard me mention how much I love
Adriana Trigiani and her books. She truly is an incredibly gifted storyteller, but she's also an amazing person. I'm sure you've heard me go on and on (and on) about the few times that I've had the opportunity to meet her and have tea or lunch with her, and I truly count Adriana as one of my very favorite writers. So when I opened up my mail on Saturday afternoon and saw that she had sent me an advance copy of her latest novel THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE, I was giddy with anticipation.

THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE is the fictionalized account of the life of Adriana's grandfather and the love that he shared with his wife. It is an epic novel about the power of love and family, and I'm sure it includes many of the stories and traditions that Adriana learned from her grandmother. I can imagine how special an undertaking THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE was to Adriana since love and family are two things that she treasures the most in her life. This novel is not only a beautiful tribute to her grandparents, but it is also a wonderful way to keep their memories alive for Adriana's own daughter. In addition, it allows her fans (and new readers) to remember their ancestors and the sacrifices they made when they came to America.

The story begins when Ciro and Enza are children and follows them from small villages in the Alps of Italy, to Little Italy in New York City, to Hoboken, New Jersey, and finally to Minnesota where they eventually settle and live as a shoemaker and wife. It also covers an interesting span in time from the early 1900s until the mid 1900s, a period rich in United States history including such changes as mass immigration and two major wars. THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE does a wonderful job of combining both real world history with the amazing lives of Ciro and Enza, and I was impressed by how well Adriana brought both aspects of these stories to life.

At its heart, THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE is a beautifully written novel that is a tribute to all types of love. There is no doubt that Adriana is a wonderful writer and can definitely weave a fascinating story, but this book seemed unlike anything she's ever written before.  On one hand, it's a much grander novel and I think she set out to accomplish more with this story; but on the other hand, it still epitomizes everything that I've come to know and love about her novels. Adriana's vivid descriptions and character development shine through on every page of this book, and I couldn't help but fall in love Ciro and Enza and be touched by their stories.

While I did enjoy THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE very much (it is an Adriana book so I'm guaranteed to think it's special), I don't know that it was my all-time favorite one of her novels. Don't get me wrong, I still really liked it as a whole and loved many parts of it, but I found that I got lost in some of the descriptions. I hesitate to even say that because I did appreciate many of the details, especially the ones about Little Italy and the dresses that Enza sewed; however, I found that I got a little overwhelmed at times. Having said that, I understand what Adriana was trying to do with many of the details, namely those pertaining to the sights and sounds of New York City. She was trying to get across to the readers how an immigrant from a small village in the Alps would feel when first experiencing America, and I do think she accomplished that.

If I had to sum up what I enjoyed most about this novel, I'd have to say it was how it made me feel. Adriana truly has a gift when it comes to touching my heart with her stories, and THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE was no exception. I credit Adriana with making me think about the importance of my family and faith, and she's even inspired me to express my love for my grandmothers in writing. After reading this novel, I gained an entirely new respect for the amount of work my ancestors did for not only themselves, but their future generations. And don't even get me started on how my courage and strength they had to come to a new country without even knowing the language. I hope Adriana realizes how special she is... that she can accomplish so much with the power of her words.

THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE would make a fascinating book club discussion. I had a great-grandfather who immigrated from Italy, and while his was nothing like Ciro and Enza's lives, he still had a very interesting life.  I would think others in my group would have similar stories about their relatives, and I'd love to hear them over a glass of wine (or two!) I wasn't able to find a reading guide but I'm sure there will be one soon. Adriana is a huge supporter of book clubs and was actually one of the first authors to do "author chats," so I can't imagine that it will be long before she releases a reading guide. Having said that, this book covers a lot of ground so there are tons of things to discuss including family dynamics, mental illness, grief, loss, love, marriage, sacrifice, courage, friendships, forgiveness, the immigration experience, perseverance, and faith. Needless to say, you will not lack for topics to discuss or characters to analyze!

THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE is an epic love story, and at the same time, a wonderful look at the immigration experience in the United States. It truly is a special novel, and fans of Adriana as well as fans of historical fiction, should appreciate this story.

Thanks to the author and publisher for sending a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This book was pretty special, wasn't it? Your review is fantastic!

Beth F said...

Skimmed -- and skipped. This is on my list for the weekend.

Serena said...

Looks like a great read...thanks for the recommendation. I still haven't read any of this author's books...maybe I'll start with this one.

Karlie said...

I'm reading this right now. I'm enjoying it but usually I can't put her books down. This isn't the case with The Shoemaker's Wife. I think I need to get into it a little more though.

Kristin said...

I love Adriana Trigiani, too and have this book on my tbr list. I first came to know Adriana with her Valentine series and I am anxiously awaiting Ciao Valentine!

Great review!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

i have heard so many wondrous things about Adriana's writing but have never taken the plunge. She's supposed to be at a bookstore near me this month and I have my ticket to attend and get The Shoemaker's Wife. Wonderful review - especially the part about how this book makes you *feel* - love when books evoke strong emotions

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

This one is right up my ally with the Italian connection and all, and I can't wait to read it.

Anonymous said...

I am only on page 63 of this one but loving it. Believe it or not, I am completely new to Trigiani! I may have to check out her other books after this.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I haven't read Adriana Trigiani yet, though she's been on my list. I've seen this book around a lot lately, so this will be my first!