Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel, The Shoemaker’s Wife, is sure to resonate with those of us lucky enough to have spent our childhoods listening to our grandparents’ magical stories of life in the old country and immigrating to America. Indeed, the gifted storyteller and author of the best-selling Big Stone Gap series spent more than 25 years researching the details of her own grandparents’ relationship and immigration to New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood before writing the book she describes as her “artistic obsession.”
Though The Shoemaker’s Wife is an homage to Trigiani’s grandparents, it is not a biography. Instead, it’s a divine work of historical fiction, and of course, a love story. The novel opens in the Italian Alps, where Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli are thrown together by fate after enduring heartbreaking family tragedies. An orphan raised by nuns, Ciro finds himself banished from his village through no fault of his own, while Enza is determined to rescue her large family from poverty and grief after the death of her younger sister. Their goals drive them apart despite an immediate attraction.
Destiny continues to thwart these star-crossed lovers at every turn, even after they discover they both are living in New York. For Ciro, overcoming his lingering grief for the family he lost means throwing himself into his work as an apprentice to a kind shoemaker. Enza’s life in America has a rather miserable beginning—she spends several years in Hoboken as an indentured servant to a distant relative—but the plucky heroine finally manages to break free of her nemesis, landing a job at the Metropolitan Opera House, where she soon becomes a favorite seamstress of legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso. Above it all hovers the question of whether the time will ever be right for Enza and Ciro to be together, and if their shared dream of returning to their homeland will one day come true.
Imbued with both the hardscrabble details of immigrant life on the streets of New York City and the poetic lyricism of Ciro and Enza’s beloved Italian Alps, The Shoemaker’s Wife is a fine Italian meal that one savors long after it is finished.
Read a Q&A with Trigiani for The Shoemaker's Wife.