Monday, April 23, 2012

The Shoemaker's Wife - Book Review - TLC Book Tours

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Format - Oversized paperback, provided by the publisher.

Why?  I hadn't read any of Trigiani's work before The Shoemaker's Wife came around on the TLC Book Tour.  I'd seen it on other blogs, but didn't really have it high on my TBR list.

What now?  I prioritized this one because of the book tour and started it early because I was a little worried about the length...but I finished it in 48 hours...and was sad when it was time to stop reading.  I will definitely look for more by Trigiani.

Golden Lines

The Lazzari brothers, now teenagers, were as much a part of convent life as the nuns themselves.  They were aware of all they missed, but instead of grieving for their father and pining for their mother, they learned to use their emotions to fuel their ambition.  They learned how to fend off sadness and quell despair by staying busy like the sisters of San Nicola.  This life lesson, learned by the sisters' example, would carry them through life.

Mama always said a good family has one heartbeat.  No one knows you like the people you live with, and no one will take up your cause to the outside world quite like your blood relatives.  Enza knew Battista's moods, Eliana's courage, Vittorio's ego, Alma's restlessness, and Stella's peaceful nature.  When one laughed, eventually they all did.  When one was afraid, they did whatever they could do to shore up the other's courage.  When one was sick, soon they all felt the pain.

Ciro's worth had always been measured by how hard he worked, how many chores he could complete from the time the sun came up until it went down.  His diligence was his calling card and the foundation of his fine reputation; he had built his sense of self-worth one task at a time.
Ciro hadn't any idea how capable he would feel, caring for a person rather than completing a chore.  He felt a deep well open in his heart.  He believed that a girl could be a thrilling mystery, but he couldn't have guessed she could also be a true companion, that conversation with her would fulfill him, or that he might learn something from her.

A trade will sustain you, while a job will only feed you temporarily.  I think it's important to be able to make something, whether it's shoes or sausage.  Food, clothing, and shelter are the basic needs of all people.  If you master a trade that serves one of those needs, you will work for a lifetime.

"What is it about grief, Papa?  It never leaves you."
"It's there to remind us of what we had," he answered.  "It's a terrible trick played on the living."

This is my Italy, she thought.  The power and beauty of the antiquities, the detailed frescoes, the imposing statuaries carved of milk white granite, Don Martinelli's hammered gold chalice, the glorious tones of the music, the Italy of Puccini and Verdi, Caruso and Toscanini, not the Italy of the shattered spirits in Hoboken and the drunken, desperate Anna Buffa.  This was the Italy that fed her soul, where hope was restored and broken hearts were mended in the hands of great artists.

Enza did some of her best thinking when she did detail work.  Giacomina had taught her daughter that you must dig constantly for meaning in the sorrow of this life, and this sorrow must galvanize you, not define you.

"What if I told you that I want you now?" Ciro leaned toward her.
She smiled. "I would think that you're a courageous soldier going off to war, who wouldn't mind leaving a nice girl behind to pray for him.  I remind you of what you come from.  Don't mistake that for love.  It's a deep connection, but it isn't what you think."

...Ciro realized he'd chosen Enza because she was strong alone; she did not need him, she wanted him.  Enza had chosen Ciro, forsaking her own sense of security, which, he had come to know, was the need that drove her.  Everything [she]did, and every decision she made, was about holding life together, and creating safety in a world where there was little.

"Children come to us in many ways," she remembered Pappina saying.  The thought sent a chill through her.


Ciro and Eduardo Lazzari's mother, drowning in her own grief over the loss of their father, her husband, leaves her sons in an Italian convent and promises to return for them as soon as she is well enough to do so.  The nuns take the boys in and help them grow into fine young hard-working men, Ciro the rougher, brawlier one and Eduardo the more pious, academic and quiet one.  After establishing themselves over many years in the convent, Ciro witnesses a scandalous scene between one of the priests and a young village girl.  In order to ensure his silence, the priest has Ciro sent to America, separating him from his brother and the only other family he has ever known at the convent.  His spirit is broken, but his resolve is strong and he refuses to be beaten.  
Ciro's path crosses with 15 year old Enza who is grieving the death of her baby sister Stella shortly before he leaves for America.  Ciro, an admitted admirer of pretty women, is smitten.  However, even in the traumatic aftermath of her sister's death, Enza is level-headed and unconsciously deepens hers and Ciro's connection as they bury her sister and then Enza takes Ciro back down the mountain in her father's carriage.
Years and an ocean later, Ciro and Enza meet again in America where each of them struggles to maintain some semblance of who he/she is, holding onto what's dear to them while learning to live a new life in a new country.  They cross each other's paths several times over the years through various jobs, homes, successes and disappointments, WWI, relationships with others, and lifetime friendships.  As they finally are able to figure out just where/how they belong in each other's lives, their story is one of thousands of immigrant stories where survival of the family means leaving home for America and starting a new life.

What I Liked

Sister Teresa - from the first time the young hungry boy Ciro showed up in her kitchen having followed the smell, Sister Teresa was one of the few constants in Ciro's life.   She took him in, nourished his natural tendency to work and in her own way became Ciro's foster mother.

The realistic nature of the romance - I'm not a romantic, and I purposely stay away from books where everyone is swooning over each other and somebody gets to ride off in the sunset with someone else :p
Please imagine me razzberrying with that outstretched tongue.
I do happen to believe that there is a plan for each of us...and possibly a person that each of us is supposed to be with...but for us to be with that person, we have to live through other stages and experiences first.  Then and only then can we be true partners with another.  I think that's how Ciro and Enza's story came together and why their bond was so unbreakable.  By the time Ciro was banished to America by Don Gregorio, I rushed to the end of the book to make sure Ciro and Enza were going to somehow end up together.  (My firstborn gets soooo angry with me when I do this, so don't tell her.) I had only reached pg. 100 when I had to look at the end of the 468 pg. novel if that gives you any indication as to how caught up I was in Ciro and Enza's stories individually as well as their possible story together.
This romance wasn't like that.  Ciro and Enza led their own lives.  They had a foundational history together, but they built their own individual futures without each other.  Both struggled in life and worked their butts off to make it in the world...and even when their paths crossed again and again, their individual survival never depended on the other one.
Even when they finally reach one important pinnacle in their lives, things still aren't perfect.  As a matter of fact, they're far from it.  There are doubts, arguments, discussions, disappointments, yet they tough it out together...and then it's not so tough anymore.rft54

The importance of Family and Community - Ciro and Enza are able to succeed for a variety of reasons, and at the foundation of their survival is their own hard-headed ideals of not letting anyone knock them down, making better lives for their families, paying their debts, being grateful for their blessings and lot in life.  However, it is through all of the other lives that touch theirs that Ciro and Enza are given the guidance and support they need to keep moving forward.  We still have this sense of family to a certain extent in some communities, but I think we've lost so much of this kind of life over the years.  I wonder many times if we've all been trying to break apart from everyone else so hard that we've actually created a very lonely world.  What's happened to the cultures where after a woman gives birth, the other woman women come in and tend to the baby and the rest of the family for a couple of weeks so that the woman who has just given birth can rest and heal?
What's happened to a culture of people who honor their history and homeland and languages?  What's happened to a culture that honors commitment, hard work and learning to make adjustments in life, never expecting life to be fair?
What's happened to that culture of people who find happiness and joyous celebration through food, language, celebrations, song and dance, art and being truly with others?
You'll find all of these people in this novel...and I truly enjoyed being a part of their lives for a little while.

What I Didn't Like

There were a couple of times very briefly where young Enza threatened to become a fainting damsel in distress waiting on her knight in shining armour to save here...but just about the time I thought it was coming, Enza's realistic side would snap to attention.  Whew!

I noticed a pattern of pretty obvious foreshadowing in Trigiani's story -
Enza listened to him, and this was a gift sweeter than any kiss.  But it would take Ciro many years to realize it.

She knew in her heart that it would be the last time she would see Enza.

While in some ways, the use of this literary strategy is like me looking toward the end, there were times when I felt it was overdone.  I also kinda like to be in control of peeking ahead when I get ready to, not for the author to tell me ahead of time what's going to happen.

Cliche' - He leaned down to her.  She felt safe in his shadow, and as his lips grazed her cheek, he took in the scent of her skin, which was at once familiar and right.

Ciro and Enza's story is a romance, no doubt, so these gushy parts were not my favorites...but embedded within the rest of the story, even I could stomach them here and there.

The evil Buffa family - the fact that Enza was able to keep going despite the constant degrading and overwork is beyond me...Enza's behavior speaks to her upbringing and the solid backbone of her family...she was brought up to respect, work hard, and persevere, and she certainly did just that during her tenure in that home.

Vito Blazek's dismissal - without spoiling anything here, I just felt like the end of the relationship was a bit brusque for Enza who seemed to always feel as if she should do the right thing.

Overall  Recommendation

Read this one if you're a romantic (or not) who likes history, real people in real world situations whose lives don't end up perfectly.  Also, others who enjoy immigrant stories, especially Italian immigrant stories in NY, Italian family life in Italy as well as NYC, and early NY class lifestyles will also like this one.

**Via TLC Book Tours, the publisher graciously provided a copy of The Shoemaker's Wife in exchange for honest review.  All opinions are my own.


  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)April 23, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    I loved this book even though I knew from the very beginning what was going to happen.  Enza and Ciro just belonged together.  You must read more of Trigiani's work!

  2.  I just ordered this one from the library on audio, and am excited to get to it. I love immigrant stories, and historical novels, so I think I will do well with this book. Great review today!

  3. I love books about Italian families and I have been wanting to read this one.  Great review!

  4. I can't wait to read this book!  I've read all of her others and love, love, love her!!

  5. I think I will definitely enjoy this book!  Just need to wait for my library to acquire a copy now....

  6. I'm definitely going to read more Trigiani, Kathy! What would you recommend next?

  7. Who reads the audio on this one?  Whoever it is would have to have quite an impressive Italian accent with all the geographical variations :) I would be interested in hearing just a snippet of that.

  8. It's a good one for sure, Anne :)

  9. Sherri, which one of Trigiani's books do you recommend I read next?  

  10. Sam, it was such a comfortable, heartwarming story...the realism just makes it that much more so to me.

  11. I'm totally in love with the cover on this one, and I've never read Trigiani, either!

  12. Loved your thorough review! I agree that Enza could be a bit simpering at times but overall she really was a strong female ahead of her times. Loved this book!

  13. While I like the cover as well, after reading the book, I can't figure out exactly who it is and what is happening...My guess would be Enza but the visual doesn't match the one in my head...would be interesting to find out more about the cover :)

  14. She always pulled it together during those few times she began slipping into the damsel abyss...I liked her a lot :)

  15. I have a thing for immigrant stories so can't wait to get to this one.  Thanks for the thorough review!

    My two favorite Trigiani series are her Big Stone Gap series (first book is Big Stone Gap) and Valentine series (Brava Valentine is one of the books in the series).  Valentine is also set in downtown NY while Big Stone Gap is set in SW Virginia. 

  16. both sound good...I might start with the ones set in NY though...I'm listening to Gods of Gothem right now which is also set in early NY...really good stuff! :) Thanks for the recommendations!

  17. i've really been wanting to read this one - i'm glad it's not one of those really sappy love stories that has absolutely no realism .... lovely review!

  18. I'm not a fan of sappy, Stacy...this one is a very realistic yet emotional portrayal of Ciro and Enza's lives and the life they made together :)

  19. I fully agree with your recommendation and I was also sad when this book ended!

  20. Realistic romance does seem rather hard to come by so I'm excited to see that this story is a winner in that department!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  21. A 1949 cover of Harper's Bazaar

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. My grandfather is an immigrant from northern Italy, which is what originally drew me to this novel. Having been to the place where my grandfather grew up, I discovered it was much the same as the setting in the beginning of the book! It was delightful to read something that hit so close to home.