Monday, August 15, 2016

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This book is a few years old, but I decided to read it since part takes place in Italy where I recently travelled (though only a few small scenes in Rome, the rest in Northern Italy which I have not visited).

An interesting historical fiction, and love story, the novel certainly kept me interested.  It starts when Enza and Ciro are children.  Enza is growing up in a small mountain village - the eldest of six children and a happy helpmate for both her mother and father.  They are poor but get by based on the resourcefulness of all the family members.

Ciro, is less lucky.  His father had immigrated to work in the US mines to make money for his family, but dies in a fire at the mine - his body is never located.  Ciro's mother becomes depressed and can no longer care for Ciro and his brother, Eduardo, so she leaves them in the care of nuns at a local convent.  She promises to return for them but never does.  Eduardo is the studious brother and eventually is sent to seminary to be a priest.  Ciro is good with his hands and does all the physical chores the convent demands - though longing for a real family, the nuns, their handyman and his brother provide him with tremendous support.

When Ciro and Enza are teenagers, he is sent to her village and they meet and kiss.  He promises to stay in touch but shortly after witnesses the local priest in a compromising position and is sent by the nuns to America to escape the work house the priest wishes upon him.  He is sponsored by the uncle of one of the nuns who wants an apprentice in his shoe making business.

Not long after Enza and her father also immigrate to America in an effort to make money for the family so they can build their own house and no longer be at the mercy of landlords.  Enza almost dies from a severe case of seasickness.  While in the hospital she meets Ciro again but mistakenly believes he is in love with another woman and they go their separate ways.  Her father heads to the mines and Enza is left with distant relatives of her mother who mistreat her as their maid.  After several years working as a seamstress at night and maid by day, she makes a good friend, Laura, who teaches her English and together they find a nice rooming house and jobs sewing for the Metropolitan Opera.

At this point Enza and Ciro meet again but Ciro is headed to war and Enza is involved with a wealthy  employee of the opera.  However, when Ciro survives the war, and "loses" his brother to his ordination as a priest, he sets out to win Enza back.  Together they move to Minnesota to carve out a life selling shoes and sewing for miners.  The remainder of the book looks at the ups and downs of their lives together and ends with a glimpse at the future of their adult son.

This is not the greatest book I have ever read by any stretch but it was entertaining and the glimpses of life in New York and Minnesota in the early 1900s was interesting.

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