Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani @AdrianaTrigiani

Holy cow! What a beautiful book. The Shoemaker's Wife is an epic love story. Its frustrating at times -- because it isn't all happy; things don't just instantly work out -- but the wait is SO worth it.

The Shoemaker's Wife takes you on a journey from northern Italy (think: Alps) to New York, and at last to Minnesota. The setting is the early 1900s, and our main characters, Enza and Ciro start out the poorest of the poor. Ciro's mother leaves him and his brother at a convent when she can no longer care for them. Enza grows up in a family that is happy, but barely scrapes by. They meet once, on the mountain in Italy, and then both of them, through different circumstances, end up in New York.

I loved the characters -- Enza and Ciro of course, but also the secondary characters -- their friends and family. This is a story of hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance. These immigrants took nothing for granted. I can't imagine leaving my family for many years to go work in another country, just so they could build a new house. It is the kind of sacrifice that few people make in our world today. Also, the lack of communications really struck me. Photographs were unheard of. No pictures to send the grandparents? No pictures of the new house? And, of course, the telephone (at the beginning of the story) wasn't possible either. Compare that to today's way of life -- moving away from family is still difficult, but at least communication is a lot easier. These characters are so strong, and their strength only increases through their lives.

We experience many different aspects of life in New York, from a shirt factory to the opulence of the Metropolitan Opera. We experience WWI (and WWII, before it's all over.) We go to Rome for a while, as well. Happiness and disappointments, successes and failures abound. The friendships are meaningful and lasting. This is a LONG book. 500 pages, 15 discs. Everything is described in exquisite detail, but I loved every detail, and The Shoemaker's Wife would not be the same story without them.

Given the level of detail, I was kind of surprised that The Depression was never mentioned. I would have thought that period might have had a big effect on people who have their own business making shoes for local people. But, the book is already long, so I can overlook that.

I was listening to the audiobook while driving and almost had to pull of the road because I was sobbing so hard. Just warning you--people die. I am so sad that I've finished this ultimately uplifting story. I'm going to be thinking about these characters for a long time, and wondering how they are doing. They have really earned a place in my heart, at least for a while.

Trigiani based this story on her grandparents, and you can tell she researched it well and added a lot of exquisite details to make The Shoemaker's Wife even more compelling. It made me wish I new more about the story of my great grandparent's journey and ultimate success in this country.

I have to comment on the narration. The first half of the book is narrated by an Italian actress, Annabella Sciorra, and she was perfect. A soft-spoken beautiful voice, that fit perfectly with the setting. The second half of the book is narrated by Adriana Trigiani. I really missed the first reader. It was very jarring, to get used to a new reader, especially one that I didn't like as well. If Trigiani had narrated the whole thing, I think I would have been fine having nothing to compare it to. But, Sciorra was really, really good.

My other comment is on the cover. Who is that? I don't think Enza would have ever dressed like that. She dressed beautifully; after all, she was a seamstress, but I don't picture her in something like that.

Negative cover aside, I would recommend The Shoemaker's Wife to fans of long, historic love stories. If you are interested in the early 1900s, this book has a lot to offer. I would recommend the audio version too, even with the above comments, I still think it is excellent.

Published by Harper, April 3, 2012. Audio by HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
496 pages

Rating: 5/5

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  1. So glad to see you loved this one. I was blown away when I read it. It is one of my favorite historical fictions. I loved that it had roots in the author's family history.

  2. I've had my eye on this book for a while but wasn't sure what to make of it. Sounds like an incredible read and perfect for the holiday season. I think I'll check it out the next time I'm at my library. Great review!

  3. I read the book as a book club selection, I enjoyed the descriptive style of the author's writing as well as the story lines.

    Cath Brookes (Microsoft Downloads)


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