The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani.
Whenever there was a festival in Vilminore, hundreds of visitors from nearby towns emptied into the village. The revelers were hardworking mountain people who toiled in the mines or on the farm, just like the people who lived in Vilminore. There was no discernible difference in wealth or status. Men worked to provide for the table and had to work the same amount of hours to get it. But even among the padrones of the Italian Alps, there was nothing that compared to the opulence Ciro watched sashay up the plank of the SS Chicago. - from The Shoemaker's Wife, page 121 -
Ciro and his older brother, Eduardo, live with their mother in the Italian Alps. But when their father is killed in a mine accident, the boys' mother can no longer provide for them. She leaves them at a convent in the care of the nuns who raise the two youngsters as though they were their own. Although Eduardo has a strong Catholic faith, Ciro questions everything. So when he catches a priest in a compromising situation, Ciro reports the incident. Banished from the village, Ciro is sent to America to become a shoemaker's apprentice.
Enza is the eldest daughter of a large family. She adores her father and mother and cares for her siblings. When disaster strikes, she decides to use her seamstress skills to earn money for her family. Hoping to one day return to her village, Enza boards a ship for America.
Enza and Ciro meet only once in their small village, but fate draws them together in America. While Ciro faces combat in WWI, Enza begins to realize her dreams as a gifted seamstress for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Despite the challenges of being together, the love they have for each other will forever change their lives.
Adriana Trigiani was inspired to write this book based on her grandparents' love affair and marriage. The story is a sprawling historical novel which spans decades and moves from the Italian Alps to New York City and finally to Minnesota. Trigiani excels at describing place, including beautiful details of the Italian countryside, as well as the congestion and excitement of New York City.
Despite a book firmly grounded in place, The Shoemaker's Wife is not without its faults. Ciro is not altogether likable as the dashing womanizer. Enza is almost too good to be true. Together their chemistry is anything but tantalizing. I found the dialogue in the novel stilted and the character development was not as deep as I usually like. The story worked as an historical novel, but fell short as a literary romance.
The early part of the book was interesting. I liked how Trigiani transported me to Italy and showed the underpinnings of a small village. The mid to latter part of the novel dragged for me -- and I admit, I did skim many parts.
Trigiani has written many bestselling novels, but this was my first experience with one of her books. Other bloggers whom I respect have enjoyed her earlier works and I have seen some raves of this one, so although I did not love it, I would not discourage others from reading Trigiani's latest effort.
Readers who have liked previous novels by this author, or those who like sprawling historical sagas may want to give The Shoemaker's Wife a try.
Three stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".