I must admit that the covers of Adriana Trigiani’s books often turned me off, but this time, I am glad it did not. The story of The Shoemaker’s Wife was superbly executed, although, at times, it did feel somewhat contrived, with the feel of a fairy tale, because the ending always worked out for the best. The magnetism of the prose, however, draws the reader into the pages, as the characters come alive and let you share the many different phases of their lives with them. The Enza and Ciro Lazarri’s love story is simply a magical journey.
In 1905, recently widowed Caterina Lazzari, finds herself in a sorry state of affairs. Her husband Carlo, has died in a mining accident in America. With no offers of help forthcoming, for her desperate financial situation, from either friends or family, she is forced to bring her sons, Ciro and Eduardo, 10 and 11 years old, to a convent in Vilminore, Italy, where they are to live and be raised by the nuns until such time as she can return for them.
Enza Ravanelli meets Ciro at the tragic funeral of her younger sister Stella. They are both 15 years old at the time. To earn some money, he had accepted a job to dig a grave that turned out to be her sister’s. Immediately, Enza is drawn to him and knows he has her heart; while he is also drawn to her, it is not with the same intensity.
Shortly after their meeting, both Enza and Ciro are parted, unexpectedly, as they are both forced, for different reasons, to leave Italy and go to the United States. Enza travels to Hoboken, NJ, to work as a maid and seamstress, and Ciro goes to Manhattan to work as an apprentice to a shoemaker. They leave their well-loved villages in the mountains of Italy, unhappily, but compelling reasons propel them. Neither knows where fate has taken the other. Throughout the narrative, chance plays an important role in the lives of these two individuals, for at the unlikeliest of times, in the unlikeliest of places, their relationship is often rekindled, though not always as successfully as hoped.
I found the presentation of the hardships facing the life of an immigrant to be a bit lacking. Their sea crossings, lack of language and skills necessary to get a good paying job, the effects of the war on their aspirations for citizenship and independence, the loneliness and loss of all they knew when they left their homeland, and even the religious conflicts they faced, all seemed to be incompletely developed. Yet, even so, this writer’s pen has created an absorbing novel about humanity, with all its frailties and its strengths, extending over a period of more than three decades. The human suffering is poignant; the tender emotions of both sadness and happiness are presented with honesty and simplicity. The strivings and yearnings of the immigrants rise from the paper as their desire to make a better life for themselves takes shape. I did feel, that even with the superbly positive attitudes the characters possessed, always looking at the bright side (almost alchemists), that often things worked out a little too conveniently. At every turn, some guardian angel stepped in to save the day.
On a really positive note, I give kudos to this author for writing a romantic saga without the use of erotic sex scenes merely to titillate the readers. Rather she has used the beauty of their love story and her writing style to captivate the reader instead, which completely overcomes whatever other shortcomings might exist. The romance is the stuff that dreams are made of because these two people, with strong convictions and positive personalities, complement each other, and slowly, they wind their lives in each other’s direction, against all odds.
The author’s abundant use of metaphors and similes sometimes felt overused, but it made the narrative explode from the page so that the images of Italy and America were sharp and clear, as were the sights and sounds of the rest of the decades that followed the characters. The characters were courageous, adventurous and optimistic in whatever situation they found themselves. They take us with them as they follow their destiny.
For Adriana Trigiani, the book’s seed was her own family’s heritage. If the events occurred as she wrote them, in some ways their lives were charmed, for in spite of the tragedies they endured, they always maintained a positive outlook. If this is truly based on the lives of her relatives, they were very unique and special human beings with heroic aspirations.