"Life, Enza decided, is not about you get, but what is taken from you. It's in the things we lose that we discover what we most treasure." ~ Chapter 5
Book Description (from amazon.com): The fateful first meeting of Enza and Ciro takes place amid the haunting majesty of the Italian Alps at the turn of the last century. Still teenagers, they are separated when Ciro is banished from his village and sent to hide in New York's Little Italy, apprenticed to a shoemaker, leaving a bereft Enza behind. But when her own family faces disaster, she, too, is forced to emigrate to America. Though destiny will reunite the star-crossed lovers, it will, just as abruptly, separate them once again—sending Ciro off to serve in World War I, while Enza is drawn into the glamorous world of the opera . . . and into the life of the international singing sensation Enrico Caruso. Still, Enza and Ciro have been touched by fate—and, ultimately, the power of their love will change their lives forever. A riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny, inspired by the author's own family history, The Shoemaker's Wife is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write.
"I don't know what to say to make you believe me. I don't believe in God so much. And the Blessed Mother forgot all about me, just as my own mother did, but none of them could give me what one thought of you could do. But if you come away with me, I promise to love you all my life. That's all I have to offer you." ~ Ciro to Enza, Chapter 21
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani is a beautiful story of grand proportions. Following the lives of Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravenelli as they come of age in northern Italy and immigrate to America where their paths continue to cross until they accept that their journey is one.
The novel begins as Ciro and his brother Eduardo are taken to live with the Sisters of San Nicola as their mother, Caterina, can no longer care for them following their father's death in a mining accident in America. The loss of a father and mother greatly effects the brothers in opposite forms. Ciro turns inward and longs for beautiful women and to find meaning for his life while Eduardo explores his faith, turning later to priesthood to find his peace. Ciro is lead to Enza after being hired to dig her sister's grave and meeting her at the funeral service. Enza's devotion to her family and desires for them to live a better life force she and her father to move to America to find work, always with the plan to return and build a home of their own. Ciro's fate also sends him to America after witnessing an act by the local priest. It is in a new land, that Ciro and Enza's paths cross again.
More than a love story between two characters, this novel is a tribute to art and a celebration of a simple way of life. Trigiani's geographic descriptions quickly nestles the reader into the landscape, from the quaint Italian countryside to the bustling streets of Little Italy and Manhattan to the sprawling spaces of Minnesota. Along the way, the strength of the characters remains through their traditions; their crafts are elevated to an artform. We see Ciro create shoes with such skill that we can smell the leather. As Enza sews colorful fabrics into form, we envision the fashion.
The passages in The Shoemaker's Wife are extremely detailed but not to a fault. The reader is easily entrapped in the setting which makes for an easy connection to the characters. It is clear that a lot of research went into creating this epic story and it left me feeling far more enriched after finishing it.
I first discovered opera after reading Ann Patchett's Bel Canto and then later Ellen Cooney's Lambrusco. Enza's work in the costume department of the Metropolitan Opera House introduces us to the behind-the-scenes moments of famous opera singers of the time, including the beloved Enrico Caruso. Trigiani takes us on an elaborate tour of the world of art from music and fashion to cuisine and architecture, but religion and spirituality are also at the heart of this story.
WARNING: You will need to have a box of tissues at hand for the last few chapters of this book. At first I thought I would have liked for the novel to have had a different ending, but this story was Ciro and Enza's story. And a beautiful one it was.