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.
What I loved about The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani was that it is an honest romance, similar in that regard to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Protagonists Ciro and Enza are genuinely in love share a sensible marriage, supporting each other in every capacity.
Inspired by the events of her own family history, Trigiani writes with texture and fine detail, bringing the Italian Alps, Little Italy, the Metropolitan Opera, and finally the small towns of Minnesota to life. Beginning in 1904 with the death of Ciro’s father, the narrative continues well into the protagonists’ adulthood, telling a story of losses, near-misses, and beautiful gains.
What made this book less-than-perfect for me was the uneven pacing in the final section of the book. After the slow burn and careful attention paid to each event in the preceding pages, Trigiani shifts into warp speed. Births, deaths, business mergers, and other major life events are dropped onto the page, tritely explained, and then it’s on to the next thing without giving the reader time to appreciate what just happened. A set of dingbats might mark a difference of ten years, and the dingbats that follow might only divide a period of months. It’s disorienting and emotionally unsatisfying, particularly when significant characters are introduced and not given proper time to develop.
Nevertheless, The Shoemaker’s Wife is a beautiful book, rich in texture and very moving. I found myself able to sympathize with the characters without getting lost in them.It’s an emotional book, and one that I would recommend to any fan of family sage historical fiction.
I received this book from Harper via TLC Book Tours: The Sky’s the Limit, in exchange for an honest review.