Shoemaker's Wife (Trigiani)

The Shoemaker's Wife
Adriana Trigiani, 2012
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061257094

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.

Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.

This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Big Stone Gap, Virginia, USA
Education—B.A., St. Mary’s College, Indiana, USA
Currently—lives in New York, New York

As her squadrons of fans already know, Adriana Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, a coal-mining town in southwest Virginia that became the setting for her first three novels. The "Big Stone Gap" books feature Southern storytelling with a twist: a heroine of Italian descent, like Trigiani, who attended St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, like Trigiani. But the series isn't autobiographical—the narrator, Ave Maria Mulligan, is a generation older than Trigiani and, as the first book opens, has settled into small-town spinsterhood as the local pharmacist.

The author, by contrast, has lived most of her adult life in New York City. After graduating from college with a theater degree, she moved to the city and began writing and directing plays (her day jobs included cook, nanny, house cleaner and office temp). In 1988, she was tapped to write for the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, and spent the following decade working in television and film. When she presented her friend and agent Suzanne Gluck with a screenplay about Big Stone Gap, Gluck suggested she turn it into a novel.

The result was an instant bestseller that won praise from fellow writers along with kudos from celebrities (Whoopi Goldberg is a fan). It was followed by Big Cherry Holler and Milk Glass Moon, which chronicle the further adventures of Ave Maria through marriage and motherhood. People magazine called them "Delightfully quirky... chock full of engaging, oddball characters and unexpected plot twists."

Critics sometimes reach for food imagery to describe Trigiani's books, which have been called "mouthwatering as fried chicken and biscuits" (USA Today) and "comforting as a mug of tea on a rainy Sunday" (New York Times Book Review). Food and cooking play a big role in the lives of Trigiani's heroines and their families: Lucia, Lucia, about a seamstress in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and The Queen of the Big Time, set in an Italian-American community in Pennsylvania, both feature recipes from Trigiani's grandmothers. She and her sisters have even co-written a cookbook called, appropriately enough, Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap. It's peppered with anecdotes, photos and family history. What it doesn't have: low-carb recipes. "An Italian girl can only go so long without pasta," Trigiani quipped in an interview on

Her heroines are also ardent readers, so it comes as no surprise that book groups love Adriana Trigiani. And she loves them right back. She's chatted with scores of them on the phone, and her Web site includes photos of women gathered together in living rooms and restaurants across the country, waving Italian flags and copies of Lucia, Lucia.

Trigiani, a disciplined writer whose schedule for writing her first novel included stints from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning, is determined not to disappoint her fans. So far, she's produced a new novel each year since the publication of Big Stone Gap.I don't take any of it for granted, not for one second, because I know how hard this is to catch with your public," she said in an interview with The Independent. "I don't look at my public as a group; I look at them like individuals, so if a reader writes and says, 'I don't like this,' or, 'This bit stinks,' I take it to heart.

From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I appeared on the game show Kiddie Kollege on WCYB-TV in Bristol, Virginia, when I was in the third grade. I missed every question. It was humiliating.

• I have held the following jobs: office temp, ticket seller in movie theatre, cook in restaurant, nanny, and phone installer at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. In the writing world, I have been a playwright, television writer/producer, documentary writer/director, and now novelist.

• I love rhinestones, faux jewelry. I bought a pair of pearl studded clip on earrings from a blanket on the street when I first moved to New York for a dollar. They turned out to be a pair designed by Elsa Schiaparelli. Now, they are costume, but they are still Schiaps! Always shop in the street—treasures aplenty.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is what she said:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. When I was a girl growing up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, I was in the middle of a large Italian family, but I related to the lonely orphan girl Jane, who with calm and focus, put one foot in front of the other to make a life for herself after the death of her parents and her terrible tenure with her mean relatives. She survived the horrors of the orphanage Lowood, losing her best friend to consumption, became a teacher and then a nanny. The love story with the complicated Rochester was interesting to me, but what moved me the most was Jane's character, in particular her sterling moral code. Here was a girl who had no reason to do the right thing, she was born poor and had no connections and yet, somehow she was instinctively good and decent. It's a story of personal triumph and the beauty of human strength. I also find the book a total page turner- and it's one of those stories that you become engrossed in, unable to put it down. Imagine the beauty of the line: "I loved and was loved." It doesn't get any better than that! (Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Within the pages of this novel, Trigiani’s 10th, is a gloriously romantic yet sensible world that seamlessly blends practicality and beauty...built around the staggering cultural and social changes the war years swept in.... Trigiani’s very best...exquisite writing and a story enriched by the power of abiding love.
USA Today

If you want to learn how to craft a happy life, skip the self-help books and study the characters in The Shoemaker's Wife.  Here, as she does in much of her writing, Adriana Trigiani focuses on love, friendship and family, the kind you're born into and the kind you create when your own family isn't available.... As we learn from her story, we're responsible for our creating our own happiness.... Trigiani gives us a road map to a happy life. You'll have trouble putting this novel down.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Italian teenagers Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli feel an instant romantic connection when they first meet in the Alps in 1908, but their budding relationship is interrupted when Ciro must quickly leave Italy after learning a local priest's shameful secret. The two meet again years later in New York City, where Ciro works as an apprentice to a shoemaker and Enza enjoys the elegant life of a seamstress at the opulent Metropolitan Opera. The couple's trials continue as the story takes them to the harsh winters of Minnesota and through the horrors of two world wars, helping them both finally to realize fully the true value of love and family. While her plot is somewhat predictable, popular novelist Trigiani (Lucia, Lucia) has created two immensely likable main characters, and it's a particular pleasure to root for Enza, a caring but independent woman who loves Ciro but also has dreams of her own. Verdict: Trigiani's gift for using vivid details to create a strong sense of place and her warm affection for her characters will make this a satisfying read for her many fans. —Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Library Journal

This expansive epic, which seems tailor-made for a miniseries, manages to feel both old-fashioned and thoroughly contemporary...[an] irresistible love story.

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Shoemaker's Wife:

1. One of the overarching themes of The Shoemaker's Wife is the interconnectedness of human lives and events:

Ciro had begun to notice the...seemingly disparate pieces of his experience weren't so separate after all.... He figured that all the threads of his experience would eventually be sewn together, taking shape in harmony and form to create a glorious work of art.

a) Talk about the way this connectedness plays out in the novel.
b) Does it play out in your own life? Do you see life as a series of random experiences—or is there a larger scheme in place that eventually connects people and events?

2. Ciro's motto is "Beware the things of this world that can mean everything or nothing." What does he mean? How does one discern the difference between things that mean "everything"...and things that mean "nothing"?

3. How would you describe the Lazzari brothers? Outwardly they seem very different—in what ways are they also similar? What do you make of their mother's decision to turn them over to the convent—is it "abandonment"? What lasting effect, emotionally, does her leaving them have on their lives?

4. Why does Ciro become a favorite of the nuns? What character traits does he display as a boy that he will come to depend on as he makes his way in America?

5. Why does the corrupt priest have so much power—why do the nuns feel they are unable to confront him? Does the author's use of this incident—as a key turning point in the novel—disturb you? Is she interjecting a personal attitude toward the Church? Or is this a legitimate, viable plot point? What do you make of the fact that Eduardo later becomes a priest?

6. Talk about Enza? What kind of young woman is she? What do you find admirable about her?

7. Why are Enza and Ciro drawn to one another? Enza "had something that Ciro had not seen in any girl before—she was curious." Why would curiosity appeal to Ciro? What does Enza see in Ciro?

8. The novel is told through the twin perspectives of Ciro and Enza. Do you appreciate the alternating point of view...or find it distracting? Why might Adriana Trigiani have chosen to tell the story through two characters rather than a single omniscient narrator?

9. Describe the friendship that develops between Enza and Laura when the two meet as factory workers? What does each do for the other?

10. How would you describe the role of family in this book? To what degree have the traditions and values of the family changed today? Do you believe family ties and commitments, especially for 2nd and 3rd generation of immigrants, remain as strong as they were 100 years ago?

11. Talk about the struggles of the Lazzaris and the Ravanellis—a mother must give up her sons, and a young woman must leave her family and country. How typical were those hardships in lives of families and individuals who eventually emigrated to America? Do any of those stories mirror events in your own family history? In what way did hardship shape the ambitions of immigrants and their pursuit of the American dream?

12. Talk about the way in which the author portrays immigrant life in America at the turn of the 20th century. What struck you most about how immigrants lived in New York and elsewhere?

13. The novel takes place during a time of monumental cultural and societal changes—the automobile, telephone, electricity, airplanes, and two great wars fought on a worldwide scale. How did those changes affect the characters' lives...or the ways in which the characters thought about their lives? What would the cumulative effect of those changes have felt like to you?

14. What is the significance of the novel's cover, the woman in the strapless red gown? The photo ran in a 1949 issue of Harper's Bazaar—how does it relate to the story?

15. PLOT SPOILER. If you didn't know this story was inspired by the author's own grandparents, did you believe that Enza and Ciro would eventually become reunited? Did you find the frequency of their meetings and separations drawn-out and tiresome...or did their separations build suspense and create a vicarious longing on your part?

16. Do you find the details about opera interesting, particularly the behind-the-scene view? Are you familiar with opera—have you come away with a greater appreciation of the art form...or not?

17. Have you read other works by Adriana Trigiani? If so, which ones, and how does The Shoemaker's Wife compare? Do you foresee a sequel to this novel? If so, what direction would it take?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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