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“The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani is an historical novel spanning four decades and two world wars. It was inspired by her grandparents, who emigrat-ed from northern Italy to America at the turn of the 20th century. Though their small villages in Italy were only a few miles apart, they met in New York.
This story is split into three parts by location: the Italian Alps, Manhattan and Minnesota. The journeys of fictional characters Enza and Ciro begin in 1905 in the Italian Alps, after which they meet who each other again and again by chance.
Ciro is 10 when this novel begins. His mother cannot cope with poverty, widowhood and two young boys. She leaves her two sons at a convent in Vilminore promising to return. Ciro loves the nuns and is very close to his brother, but he still feels the loss of “family.”
Enza is the same age and the oldest of five children. She lives in the little neighboring village of Schilpario. Her family earns a meager living running a mule-drawn cart. Enza, it turns out, is a gifted seamstress.
When her youngest sister, Stella, dies, Enza feels the loss deeply. Ciro, who has been sent to dig the grave, is impressed by Enza’s courage. They are attracted to each other, but separate when Ciro is forced to flee because of something he witnessed. He leaves Enza without an explanation while the nuns secretly arrange a place for him as a shoemaker’s apprentice in America.
A few years later, Enza and her father travel to the United States to make a better life for their family back home. Neither Enza nor Ciro knows that the other has settled in America. Their stories continue in parallel with as many near misses as meetings.
Their occupations and circumstances lead them in different directions, but the attraction between them remains strong. Ciro is apprenticed to a shoemaker in New York City and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken – and fate reunites them.
Enza’s seamstress skills open opportunities in New York and the Metropolitan Opera House and an encounter with the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso. Ciro enlists in the Army and is sent to France to fight in World War I.
This 500-page novel is for readers who enjoy a story that includes history, religion, war, romance and love of tradition. The characters are charismatic, the descriptions vivid. “The Shoemaker’s Wife” offers an interesting portrait of the immigrant experience at the turn of the last century.