Antonio's Wife

( 7 )

Overview

From the glamorous world of opera to the underbelly of New York's seediest tenements, a page–turning rollercoaster ride of kidnappings, betrayals, false friendships, spies, bribes, hidden identities, and twisted intrigues ...

By 1908, Francesca Frascatti has the opera world at her feet. A volatile Neapolitan diva, Francesca secretly aches with regret for having given up her daughter, Maria Grazia, on the road to stardom. Hearing that Maria has started a new life in America, ...

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Overview

From the glamorous world of opera to the underbelly of New York's seediest tenements, a page–turning rollercoaster ride of kidnappings, betrayals, false friendships, spies, bribes, hidden identities, and twisted intrigues ...

By 1908, Francesca Frascatti has the opera world at her feet. A volatile Neapolitan diva, Francesca secretly aches with regret for having given up her daughter, Maria Grazia, on the road to stardom. Hearing that Maria has started a new life in America, Francesca tries to find her. By night, she sings Tosca; by day, she and Dante Romano, a detective posing as her lover, assume any guise necessary to search New York. Francesca must brave a sordid maze of spies, corrupt police officers and greedy hooligans to reach Maria Grazia before her cunning grandfather can whisk her off to his Italian estate, and away from her forever.

At the opera house, Mina DiGianni, a gentle Italian lace maker from the Lower East Side, becomes Francesca's costume dresser and confidante. Mina is also haunted by her past. Caught between the joyful hope of new life growing inside her and the painful reality of her husband's abuse, Mina discovers new strengths and possibilities working for Francesca . and is bewildered to find herself falling in love with the diva's enigmatic lover, Dante. Mina and Francesca's worlds become ever more intertwined, and then collide in a shocking turn of events. Both women will face the greatest challenges of their lives: to finally lay their pasts to rest, and to embrace the present.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The glamorous world of opera in the early 20th century provides the backdrop for this melodramatic debut. Francesca Frascatti arrives in New York in 1908 to sing Tosca at the Manhattan Opera House (costumed so that her breasts "thrust forward like twin creme caramels"). The diva-famous for both her tantrums and artistry-is accompanied by the dashing Dante Romano, whom everyone imagines is her lover, but who is, in fact, a detective hired to help Cesca find her long-lost daughter. The lovely, na ve Mina DiGianni, a seamstress living on the Lower East Side with her abusive husband, Antonio, is promoted from the opera's costume shop to be Cesca's personal dresser. DeJohn leaks the "secret" early on, hinting heavily that Mina-who came to New York as a mail-order bride-is really Francesca's daughter. But what is Mina hiding from her own past? The web of intrigue spins tighter as affluent and sordid New York worlds converge: Cesca and Dante must determine Mina's true identity before Cesca's Mafia father-in-law can spirit Mina back to Italy; Mina and Dante begin to fall in love; and they all contend with the sinister counterplottings of Antonio and his mistress, Kathleen-an Irish saloon owner so cartoonishly slutty and fiendish that she raises the she-devil to new heights of clich . Had the patently good and obviously evil guys simply been allowed to duke it out, this narrative might have cleverly spoofed its operatic concept; the underlying theme of "destino" (destiny), however, ruins the fun a bit with its overly serious tone. For fans who like their characters more vaudevillian than operatic, however, this is one roiling historical costume fest and a speedy, digestible read. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1908, renowned Italian diva Francesca Frascatti takes the opera world by storm. Aided by Dante Romano, a detective posing as her lover, Francesca arrives in New York determined to find her daughter, Maria Grazia, whom she abandoned almost 20 years earlier. The quest intensifies with the news that Don Emilio, the rich and ruthless father of Francesca's late lover, hopes to beat her to it and claim his granddaughter first. Throughout the ordeal, the diva confides in her dresser, lovely Mina DiGianni, who arrived in New York as a mail-order bride and was duped into a marriage with a man prone to profanity and violence. Like Francesca, Mina is haunted by the secrets from her past. As the worlds of these two women slowly collide, Mina realizes how much she has in common with Francesca. Although this debut novel has a promising beginning, the plot grows increasingly tangled. Mina and Francesca's anguished reflections about the role of destino provide an odd counterpoint to the frantic pace of the story. After experiencing this tarantella of a plot-teeming with disguises, double crosses, illegal boxing matches, kidnapping, bribery, and murder-the reader is left dizzy and breathless. For larger collections.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An Italian diva searches for her long-lost daughter, now rumored to be in America. Set in New York during the early 1900s, moving between uptown opera house and Lower East Side tenements, the story teems with characters and action as it introduces acclaimed Francesca Frascatti, under contract to star in Tosca. But Cesca has more on her mind than being applauded and well paid; she's searching for Maria Grazia, the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago. Also in town from Naples is newly married mail-order bride and lace-maker Mina, wife of abusive and philandering ditch-digger Antonio. Hinting at a troubled past, Mina becomes Cesca's dresser and soon wins the affection of both the diva and her "fiance" Dante, who's really a detective conducting the search for Maria. He's soon smitten with Mina, who's also attracted but feels committed to Antonio, despite his brutal beatings. The storyline is further complicated by the presence of rich and noble Don Emilio, who blames Cesca for the untimely death of his son, her lover, and wants to find his lost granddaughter before Cesca does. The diva is soon convinced that Mina, who has earrings that Cesca gave to Maria and recalls places that Cesca also recognizes, is her daughter. She hides Mina as Antonio, his avaricious Irish mistress, the Black Hand, the NYPD, Don Emilio, and his minions all try to thwart her. Antonio, promised money by Don Emilio, abducts and imprisons Mina, now pregnant with his child. As she schemes to free herself, her enemies act ruthlessly to prevent her escape while Cesca and Dante search desperately and find allies of their own. A murder follows, Cesca is briefly held responsible, Mina is eventually found, and there areeven more revelations before the curtain is mercifully rung down. A melodramatic debut novel with as many twists and turns as an opera libretto.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060745974
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/15/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacqueline DeJohn was inspired to write Antonio's Wife by her father's stories about her grandmother Filomina, who came to America as a mail-order bride. This is her first novel. She lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Prologue: February 9, 1950 - Naples, Italy: the Bobbins 1
Part I November 6, 1908 - New York City: the Threads 5
Part II November 15, 1908 - New York City: the Pricking 215
Epilogue: February 9, 1950 - Naples, Italy: the Lace 427
Author's Note 433
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First Chapter

Antonio's Wife
A NovelChapter One

The soprano playing Tosca threw out her arm and showed the knife she'd been hiding in the folds of her skirt. The blade glittered wickedly in the stage lights, the music reached a crescendo, then, unexpectedly, she jammed the pearl-handled knife she'd been holding into her own chest.

"No, no, no!" she shouted in heavily accented English. "I would rather kill myself than submit!"

She gripped the villain Scarpia's jacket as she struggled in a death throe. The baritone's massive body lurched forward as she sank to her knees. A tremor passed through her body, her grip lost its power, and she fell backward onto the ornate Persian carpet, dead.

Everyone watching gasped. Tosca wasn't supposed to kill herself; she was supposed to stab the evil Scarpia, who had just demanded sex in return for her lover's safety.

The Manhattan Opera House was filled with invited guests and press who'd come to watch the final dress rehearsal. They buzzed as they scrambled for their libretti. The opera was new to many, perhaps they'd missed something.

In the wings the cast and crew edged forward. Everything had been proceeding smoothly and the production was sure to be a huge success; now this ...

"Hey, Franco," a stagehand high above in the flies called to his friend. "She's at it again!"

The men were preparing the flats and backdrops for the next scene, the battlements of the Castle Sant'Angelo.

"The Times reporter's out front too!" Franco said, shaking his head as he gazed down on the prone soprano. "What the hell's wrong now?"

"It's the knife. It's too small. Besides, she hates thatbaritone, Bonzinni. Hammerstein should have sacked him months ago. His tempo's always off. Mark my words, she won't go on until they give in."

"How are they going to get out of this? Tosca's dead!"

"Ya got me."

They watched in grim amusement as everyone checked his libretto.

"Yes," everyone whispered, poking a finger, "it's right here!"

At this point in the music, Tosca was supposed to have turned, flashed the knife for all to see, and stabbed Scarpia in the chest. "This is the kiss of Tosca!" she was supposed to have cried as she thrust the knife. They read on. Mortally wounded, Scarpia was supposed to have fallen to his knees ... unable to call for help as the blood rose in his throat ... Tosca was supposed to stand over him, goading him to die ... until finally he choked to death on his own blood! Wonderfully dramatic Puccini, but this ... what was this all about?

The baritone playing Scarpia was as startled as everyone else. He'd never, in the many times he'd played the rapacious villain, had a Tosca turn the knife on herself and commit suicide. Not even that terrible performance in Palermo when he'd been so foully out of tune the audience had hissed, thrown fruit, and finally howled, "If she doesn't kill you, we will!"

He stood over her, clutching the safe-conduct papers he'd just pretended to sign, his mind as congealed as cold pasta. He was the one who should have been dead on the floor. The last forty minutes of the opera belonged to Tosca and Cavaradossi. What was he to do? He looked to the conductor for help, but the conductor was glaring at Tosca.

He repeated his line and his acting gesture, hoping somehow to dispel this moment and bring Tosca back to life. When nothing happened, he clutched his chest melodramatically, staggered back and forth, then dropped to the floor next to Tosca, dead. He didn't care what they did; at least he was out of the dilemma.

Open-mouthed, everyone turned to the conductor. All that was left to finish the opera off in complete disaster was for Tosca's lover to break out of prison and throw himself onto the pile. "Signorina!" the conductor coaxed with vexation, tapping his baton on the lectern. "Basta, signorina, enough ... basta!"

After a moment the figure of the soprano stirred.

"I — I — I cannot — go — on — " she began, hammering her heels into the floor like a five-year-old, her volume increasing with each kick, "with this — this — this — madhouse! Questo è un casino!" she finished, shouting like a street vendor.

She jumped up and flung the small prop knife she'd been clutching as though it defiled her hand. All eyes watched the knife skid across the floorboards, its retractable blade aiming for the harpist's head. He ducked. It crashed discordantly into the strings and fell harmlessly to the floor.

"You, signore, I see," she said, whirling toward the conductor, "still think you can bamboozle me!"

Complete silence fell over the opera house. All eyes were now on the conductor.

"Do something!" the eyes implored him. "She's ruining the production!"

No one dared move. The star soprano stomped to the stage footlights, impatiently pulling the train of her gown. Her hot eyes skewered the frail, white-haired conductor, who stood with his slender baton still raised.

"In case you do not remember," she said in a measured voice laden with sarcasm, "the person you are trying to bamboozle is not a chorus girl being given her first solo. She is Francesca Frascatti!"

She stamped her foot for additional emphasis. The conductor gripped his baton with both hands, remembering the invited guests and press. The baton bent under the strain like a bow about to give flight to an arrow. After all he'd gone through in the past week with this Medusa from Napoli, he felt like pummeling her to jelly or throwing her headfirst down a well.

"Signorina Frascatti, we know who you are. You do not need to remind us. We all have great respect for you and your experience, but we have discussed this point many times. Many times! Why the knife must be small, unobtrusive ...I must remind you, now, per favore, that this is an invited dress rehearsal! We are to open tomorrow night!"

Antonio's Wife
A Novel
. Copyright © by Jacqueline DeJohn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Set in New York in 1908, Antonio's Wife abounds with life, from the rich traditions and passionate dreams of immigrants who come in search of opportunities, to the glamorous world of opera, to the seedy underbelly of the city.

Francesca Frascatti, world-renowned opera diva, has come to America to find her daughter, whom she left in the care of another woman as she fought to put her past behind her on the road to stardom. Hot on her trail is the child's grandfather, a ruthless nobleman who denied the love between Frascatti and his son. Frascatti is aided in the search for her daughter by a handsome detective named Dante who poses as her lover. Mina DiGianni, a newly married Italian immigrant with high hopes for her life but an abusive husband, becomes Frascatti's seamstress, and the two women become friends. Mina fights her feelings as she falls in love with Dante, while her own unfaithful husband plots with his cunning mistress to sell his wife for a large sum of money. You will not be able to put this book down until knowing the outcome of the intertwining stories of Mina and Francesca.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Mina tires to remain faithful to her marriage vows in spite of the abuse she suffers from Antonio. How have expectations for married women changed since the turn of the century?

  2. What is the significance of the lace metaphor used throughout the novel? In what way is life like a piece of lace?

  3. Dante and Mina come from different worlds. Mina fears she will have nothing to offer Dante. What attributes build a loving relationship?

  4. Does God intervene in the lives of human beings? How much of life is predetermined by birth and life choices? What role does destiny play?

  5. Why did the author choose to refer to Mina as Antonio's wife? Is this a good title for the novel or would another title have been a better choice?

  6. "Sangue è sangue è mai acqua, Blood is blood and never water." Francesca says. What value does biological relationship bring to a loving relationship? Do we love someone more because they are "our blood?"

  7. What role does violence play in advancing the plot? Is society more or less violent than at the turn of the century?

  8. Each character in Antonio's Wife is playing a role and not behaving authentically. Do you think the author was trying to make a comment about life in general or just using a clever plot device?

  9. Arranged marriages were common for centuries. Couples "learned to love one another" and divorce was difficult to obtain. In what ways might arranged marriage be beneficial to the growth of individuals and the concept of love?

  10. "The past, the future- they're illusions. There is only this moment, this reality." Dante says at the end of Chapter 30. How does practicing this philosophy allow happiness to enter Francesca's and Mina's lives?

  11. Kathleen and Antonio are raw, hard, realistic characters who face life's struggles head on and take no quarter. What causes them to ignore the feelings of others and seek only their own ambitions? Are they evil because of their lack of compassion for others?

About the Author

Jacqueline DeJohn was inspired to write Antonio's Wife by her father's stories about her grandmother Filomina, who came to America as a mail-order bride. This is her first novel. She lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2012

    Long and overly detailed

    Moved along at a good pace at first but by the middle of the book it began to drag and continued to do so up until the last few pages.
    Good plot but too much text that wasn't interesting. Felt like author had a word count goal.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2006

    Way Too Unbelievable

    I have to agree with those who thought the book was too over the top. Too many twists and turns and cheap cliches thrown in for shock factor. While the book held my interest towards the beginning, towards the end I just got frustrated while grudgingly skimming through the pages. It was just one silly twist after another--reminds me of the stories I used to try to write when I was a teenager.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Terribly written

    I would not recommend this book to anyone who cares about good writing. Or at least read the acknowledgments before purchasing the book because they are a good indication of the author's style of writing. This is a Danielle Steele type novel set that is nominally about opera.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2005

    Way Too Contrived

    After recently reading about a dozen great books (by Anne Tyler, Gail Tsukiyama, and others), I was very disappointed in Antonio's Wife, though I slogged through it to the end. The story has too many stock characters, and the descriptions of physical/sexual abuse and verbal combativeness between characters are very contrived. I thought the milieu of the opera was going to be a fantastic setting, but it really only served as a superficial setting. This writer needs to explore her characters in more depth, and not write such contrived passages for the purpose of shocking readers. This book simply did not ring true for me, did not put me in the minds of the characters, feeling what they must have been feeling, nor create the true feeling of the opera milieu.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    A fabulous first novel!

    Jacqueline DeJohn¿s first novel, Antonio¿s Wife, a fascinating tale of an opera diva¿s search for her long-lost daughter, is filled with vivid characters, romance, action, plot twists galore, and a surprise ending. DeJohn is a talented writer who keeps readers entertained throughout and guessing until the last page. I loved it! Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    Enchanting... poetic... dramatic & a great read

    It has been an honor to be among the first readers of this first-time writer, the pre-publication edition. I was hooked within the beginning pages, relishing the mixture of dialect and style of 'performance' assigned to each character. ANTONIO'S WIFE offers readers an opportunity to be transported to another era in time, revealing human frailties, heartache, sacrifice, evil, deceit, betrayal, greed, weakness, revenge, abuse¿ transformed to love, joy, strength, happiness, devotion, forgiveness, freedom, a realization of dreams and a successful 'destino'. ANTONIO'S WIFE, a novel, is set in the early 1900's, the opera world, Diva Francesca ('Cesca') Frascatti travels to America in search of the daughter Maria Grazia, she regretfully abandoned in Italy, hoping to find her daughter & make amends. Francesca is portrayed as talented, very strong, resilient, 'huffy', but the other side reveals the diva's kind & warm-hearted nature; a fighter for her beliefs against prejudice & discrimination, supportive of her friend, a black ring-fighter Jack Johnson & his white fiancée. Detective Dante Romano, under a veil of secrecy, poses as Cesca's lover to assist in the search for the Diva's daughter. Dante portrays a trusting, carefree caretaker with a determined nature, and supposed role as an adventurous Romeo and pursuer of women. Mina DiGianni, ANTONIO'S WIFE, lace maker by profession, accepts employment as the diva's dresser. With tribulations at home of an abusive husband Antonio DiGianni, Mina is somewhat shy, apprehensive, assuming, but astute and discerning. Upon accepting the offer of employment with the Diva and meeting Dante, Mina is instantly attracted to him. 'But choices are made, one pays a price' is Mina's belief. Seeking assistance in making her decision to leave her marriage bears no answers; priests only offer platitudes¿ 'be meek, Mina', they say. Mina still holds in her heart -- 'hope in facing the past and embracing the future.' Kathleen, bar-owner and Antonio's lover, is feisty, competitive, resilient, & resourceful, albeit tough, wanton, rude & ruthless. Mario is cheated out of his would-be marriage to Mina by maneuverings of Antonio, but Mario remains a faithful friend to Antonio, with inner longing and friendship in his love for Mina. Don Emilio appears as a man of mystery and a threat to the status quo, known by Diva Francesca Frascatti from life in Italy. Emilio's manner is wealthy, ruthless and demanding, inclusive of a mixture of wanting to do the right thing according to his beliefs. AUTHOR Ms. Jacqueline DeJohn is a talented winner! Bene, Ms. DeJohn! This writing is to be savored like a fine-aged wine. Writing is your 'destino!' Buona fortuna, Andiomio, Ms. DeJohn! Written with energy, ANTONIO'S WIFE is poetic, philosophical, heartwarming, endearing, with exceptional use & placement of words, a strong premise and plot, with strong character representations. The author shows keenness in her flashback story style -America then back to Italy and forward again with the insertion of vivid flashbacks. Ms. DeJohn's technique of pacing the introduction of central male & female characters & life in Italy attributes this read with a great deal of promise. There are writers who intentionally grab your attention beginning immediately with an event/action - then there are those who gently coax the reader with just enough beginning interest to entice the reader to continue with the book, as well as discovering a treasured read. The latter is ANTONIO'S WIFE! Some say 'don't judge a book by its cover'¿ I say, 'don't judge a book by its first pages'. Compliments to the author, Jacqueline DeJohn, for the entire read but this reader finds the following words especially, beautifully expressed: Acknowledgments section, Ms. DeJohn states: 'Finally, if you, the reader are moved to write or create. . . trust that you have all the ingredients you need to start your own minestrone. I promise spice will be provided along th

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2003

    Excellent book from an up-and-coming author

    I had the honor of being one of the first readers of this wonderful novel. I heartily recommend it to anyone with an affinity for turn of the century stories full of family bonds, romance, and intrigue. There are plots twists and a surprise ending sure to hold your attention to the very end, and the characters are fully three dimensional. You will be drawn into their lives, all their hopes and dreams, and relationships. You could not ask for a better book!

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