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About the Author
Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of seventeen books, which have been published in thirty-six countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer, and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is cofounder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than one thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.
Read an Excerpt
The Shoemaker's Wife
By Adriana Trigiani
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Adriana Trigiani
All rights reserved.
A GOLD RING
Un Anello d'oro
The scalloped hem of Caterina Lazzari's blue velvet coat grazed the fresh fallen snow, leaving a pale pink path on the bricks as she walked across the empty piazza. The only sound was the soft, rhythmic sweep of her footsteps, like hands dusting flour across an old wooden cutting board. All around her, the Italian Alps loomed like silver daggers against a pewter sky. The rising winter sun, a pinprick of gold buried in the expanse of gray, barely flickered. In the first light of morning, dressed in blue, Caterina looked like a bird.
She turned, exhaling a long breath into the cold winter air.
"Ciro?" she called out. "Eduardo!"
She heard her sons' laughter echo across the empty colonnade, but couldn't place them. She surveyed the columns of the open portico. This wasn't a morning for hide and seek, or for playing games. She called to them again. Her mind swam with all she had accomplished, big chores and small errands, attending to a slew of overwhelming details, documents filed and keys returned, all the while stretching the few lire she had left to meet her obligations.
The first stage of widowhood is paperwork.
Caterina had never imagined she would be standing here alone, on the first day of 1905, with nothing before her but the small hope of eventual reinvention. Every single promise made to her had been broken.
Caterina looked up as a window on the second floor of the shoe shop opened and an old woman shook a rag rug out into the cold air. Caterina caught her eye. The woman looked away, pulled the rug back inside, and slammed the window shut.
Her younger son, Ciro, peered around one of the columns. His blue-green eyes were the exact color of his father's, as deep and clear as the water of Sestri Levante. At ten years old, he was a replica of Carlo Lazzari, with big hands and feet and thick sandy brown hair. He was the strongest boy in Vilminore. When the village children went down into the valley to collect sticks bundled to sell for kindling, Ciro always had the heaviest haul strapped to his back because he could carry it.
Caterina felt a pang whenever she looked at him; in Ciro's face was all she had lost and would never recover. "Here." She pointed to the ground beside her black leather boot. "Now."
Ciro picked up his father's leather duffel and, running to his mother, called to his brother, who hid behind the statuary.
Eduardo, at eleven, resembled his mother's people, the Montini family, dark eyed, tall, and willowy. He too picked up his satchel and ran to join them.
At the foot of the mountain, in the city of Bergamo, where Caterina had been born thirty-two years ago, the Montini family had set up a printing press that churned out linen writing paper, engraved calling cards, and small books in a shop on Via Borgo Palazzo. They had a house and a garden. As she closed her eyes, she saw her parents sitting at an alfresco table under their grape arbor, eating ricotta and honey sandwiches on thick, fresh bread. Caterina remembered all they were and all they had.
The boys dropped their suitcases in the snow.
"Sorry, Mama," Ciro said. He looked up at his mother and knew for certain that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Her skin had the scent of peaches and felt like satin. His mother's long hair fell into soft, romantic waves, and ever since he could remember, as he lay in her arms, he had twisted a lock until it became a single shiny black rope.
"You look pretty," Ciro said earnestly. Whenever Caterina was sad, he tried to cheer her up with compliments.
Caterina smiled. "Every son thinks his mother is beautiful." Her cheeks turned pink in the cold as the tip of her aquiline nose turned bright red. "Even when she isn't."
Caterina fished in her purse for a small mirror and a chamois puff. The tip of red disappeared as she powdered it. She pursed her lips and looked down at her boys with a critical eye. She straightened Eduardo's collar, and pulled Ciro's coat sleeve over his wrist. The coat was too small for him, and no amount of pulling would add the two inches at the cuff to make it fit properly. "You just keep growing, Ciro."
"I'm sorry, Mama."
She remembered when she had their coats made for them, along with pin-cord trousers and white cotton shirts. There had been tufted blankets in their cribs when they were born, a layette of soft cotton gowns with pearl buttons. Wooden toys. Picture books. Her sons had long outgrown the clothes, and there was no replacing them.
Eduardo had one pair of wool pants and a coat given to him by a neighbor. Ciro wore the clean but ill-fitting clothes of his father, the hems on the work pants three inches deep, tacked with ragged stitches because sewing was not one of Caterina's talents. Ciro's belt was tightened on the last grommet, but still too loose to function properly. "Where are we going, Mama?" Ciro asked as he followed his mother. "She told you a hundred times. You don't listen." Eduardo lifted his brother's duffel and carried it.
"You must listen for him," Caterina reminded Eduardo.
"We're going to stay at the convent of San Nicola."
"Why do we have to live with nuns?" Ciro complained.
Caterina turned and faced her sons. They looked up at her, hoping for an explanation that would make sense of all the mysterious goings-on of the past few days. They weren't even sure what questions to ask, or what information they needed to know, but they were certain there must have been some reason behind Mama's strange behavior. She had been anxious. She wept through the night when she thought her sons were asleep. She had written lots of letters, more in the last week than they could ever remember her writing.
Caterina knew that if she shared the truth, she would have failed them. A good mother should never knowingly fail her children, not when she is all they have left in the world. Besides, in the years to come, Ciro would remember only the facts, while Eduardo would paint them with a soft brush. Neither version would be true, so what did it matter? Caterina could not bear the responsibility of making every decision alone. In the fog of grief, she had to be sensible, and think of every possible alternative for her boys. In her mental state, she could not take care of her sons, and she knew it. She made lists of names, recalling every contact in her family's past and her husband's, any name that might be helpful. She scanned the list, knowing many of them probably needed as much help as she did. Years of poverty had depleted the region, and forced many to move down to Bergamo and Milan in search of work.
After much thought, she remembered that her father had printed missals for every parish in the Lombardy region, and as far south as Milan. He had donated his services as an indulgence to the Holy Roman Church, expecting no payment in return. Caterina used the old favor to secure a place for her sons with the sisters of San Nicola.
Caterina placed a hand on each of their shoulders.
"Listen to me. This is the most important thing I will ever tell you. Do as you're told. Do whatever the nuns ask you to do. Do it well. You must also do more than they ask of you. Anticipate. Look around. Do chores before the sisters ask.
"When Sister asks you to gather wood, do it immediately. No complaining! Help one another - make yourselves indispensable. "Chop the wood, carry it inside, and build the fire without asking. Check the damper before lighting the kindling. And when the fire is out, clean the ash pit and close the flue. Sweep up so it looks like a picture. Prepare the hearth for the next fire with dry logs and kindling. Put the broom and the dustpan and the poker away. Don't wait for Sister to remind you.
"Make yourselves useful and stay out of trouble. Be pious and pray. Sit in the front pew during mass and sit at the farthest end of the bench during dinner. Take your portions last, and never seconds. You are there because of their kindness, not because I could pay them to keep you. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mama," Eduardo said.
Caterina placed her hand on Eduardo's face and smiled. He put his arm around his mother's waist and held on tight. Then she pulled Cairo close. Her soft coat felt good against his face. "I know you can be good." "I can't," Ciro sputtered, as he pulled away from his mother's embrace, "and I won't."
"This is a bad idea, Mama. We don't belong there," Ciro pleaded.
"We have no place to stay," Eduardo said practically. "We belong wherever Mama puts us."
"Listen to your brother. This is the best I can do right now. When summer comes, I will come up the mountain and take you home."
"Back to our house?" Ciro asked.
"No. Somewhere new. Maybe we'll move up the mountain to Endine."
"Papa took us to the lake there."
"Yes, the town with the lake. Remember?"
The boys nodded that they did. Eduardo rubbed his hands together to warm them. They were rough and pink from the cold.
"Here. Take my gloves." Caterina removed her elbow length black gloves.
She helped Eduardo's hands into them, pulling them up and under his short sleeves. "Better?"
Eduardo closed his eyes; the heat from his mother's gloves traveled up his arms and through his entire body until he was enveloped in her warmth. He pushed his hair back with his hand, the scent of the brushed cotton, clean lemon and freesia, reassuring him.
"What do you have for me, Mama?" Ciro asked.
"You have Papa's gloves to keep you warm." She smiled. "But you want something of Mama's too?"
"Give me your hand."
Ciro pulled his father's leather glove off with his teeth.
Caterina slid a gold signet ring off her smallest finger and placed it on Ciro's ring finger. "This was given to me by my papa."
Ciro looked down at the ring. A swirling, artful C in an oval of heavy yellow gold gleamed in the early morning light. He closed his fist, the gold band still warm from his mother's hand.
The stone facade of the convent of San Nicola was forbidding. Grand pilasters topped with statues of saints wearing expressions of hollow grief towered over the walkway. The thick walnut door had a sharp peak like a bishop's hat, Eduardo observed as he pushed the door open. Caterina and Ciro followed him inside into a small vestibule. They stomped the snow off their shoes on a mat made of woven driftwood branches.
Caterina reached up and rang a small brass bell on a chain.
"They're probably praying. That's all they do in here. Pray all day," Ciro said as he peered through a crack in the door.
"How do you know what they do?" Eduardo asked.
The door opened. Sister Domenica looked down at the boys, sizing them up.
She was short and shaped like a dinner bell. Her black and white habit with a full skirt made her seem wider still. She placed her hands on her hips.
"I'm Signora Lazzari," Caterina said. "These are my sons. Eduardo and Ciro." Eduardo bowed to the nun. Ciro ducked his head quickly as if saying a fast prayer. Really, it was the mole on Sister's chin he wished to pray away.
"Follow me," the nun said.
Sister Domenica pointed to a bench, indicating where the boys should sit and wait. Caterina followed Sister into another room behind a thick wooden door, closing it behind her. Eduardo stared straight ahead while Ciro craned his neck, looking around.
"She's signing us away," Ciro whispered. "Just like Papa's saddle."
"That's not true," his brother whispered back.
Ciro inspected the foyer, a round room with two deep alcoves, one holding a shrine to Mary, the Blessed Mother, and the other, to Saint Francis of Assisi. Mary definitely had more votive candles lit at her feet. Ciro figured it meant you could always count on a woman. He took a deep breath. "I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry."
"I can't help it."
"Don't think about it."
"It's all I think about."
"You have a simple mind."
"No, I don't. Just because I'm strong, doesn't mean I'm stupid."
"I didn't say you were stupid. You're simple."
The scent of fresh vanilla and sweet butter filled the convent.
Ciro closed his eyes and inhaled. He really was hungry. "Is this like the story Mama told us about the soldiers who got lost in the desert and saw a waterfall where there was none?" Ciro stood to follow the scent. He peered around the wall. "Or is there a cake baking somewhere?"
"Sit down," Eduardo ordered.
Ciro ignored him and walked down the long corridor.
"Get back here!" Eduardo whispered.
The walnut doors along the arcade were closed, and streams of faint light came through the overhead transoms. At the far end of the hallway, through a glass door, Ciro saw a cloister connecting the main convent to the workhouses. He ran down the arcade toward the light. When he made it to the door, he looked through the glass and saw a barren patch of earth, probably a garden, hemmed by a dense gnarl of gray fig trees dusted with snow.
Excerpted from The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani. Copyright © 2012 by Adriana Trigiani. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Adriana Trigiani has more than proven herself as an outstanding author & storyteller, however with The Shoemaker's Wife, she has brought home to us an important era in history that has been almost completely forgotten. Adriana's novel reminds us of the true character of people who immigrated to America from Europe during the mass migration of early 1900s. This novel parallels the lives of 2 people, Ciro & Enza, who were born just miles apart in the Italian Alps, and met only once during a tragic time in Enza's life. It was a lasting impression on both, however, both were forced by circumstances to leave for America, neither expected to see each other again. As an Italian American who had a grandmother, grandfather & many great-aunts and uncles who immigrated to the United States during that time, I could see each of the women in Enza, the heroine in The Shoemakers wife. Enza is a woman who, because she is the oldest child, takes on responsibilities many of us today cannot relate to. Coming to America with her father while still in her mid-teens was the only option she had to secure the financial stability of the family. I loved everything about Ciro. He is light-hearted, kind and lovable throughout the novel. In the early stages of his life, Ciro & his brother Eduardo are brought to the convent by their mother after their father was killed in a mining accident America. Because of health and financial issues, their mother could no longer care for them. The first day at the convent, Ciro found a way to charm the nuns, and makes a potentially bad situation a good experience. The relationship between the brothers is very touching, with Eduardo, the serious brother, feeling responsible for his younger brother. Both of their lives changed again by something Ciro accidentally witnesses, after doing his duties at the church. He is sent to America to live with a relative of one of the nuns, where he learned to craft of making shoes, while his brother was sent to become a priest. The novel takes you through Italy, New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, and back to Italy one more time. There are many great relationships that developed throughout the novel. One of my favorites was the deep lifelong friendship between Enza & Laura, a young Irish-American Enza meets at the factory. Like Enza, Laura is a highly talented seamstress. Through both of their talents and Enza's tenacious personality, they find jobs working on costumes for opera singer Caruso. During their time with Caruso, they learn of the better things in life. Romance comes to Enza during these years, and finding Ciro once more keeps you wondering what will happen next. What I enjoyed about the book was that I not only related to many of the characters, but it clearly brought out the pride and precision in everything the people of that era did, from working to how they lived in their homes. These immigrants came to America with skills and talents. Their work ethic was beyond normal expectations. Plus they had a love for their culture, and respect for the cultures of those from other countries. They loved their families, and knew that whatever they did would affect generations that followed them. Many assimilated into the culture of the new world (especially during World War 1, when many of the male immigrants felt it was their duty to serve), and developed friendships with other immigrants from various nations as well as Americans. This was the generation,
After I finished this book, I turned to my husband and said, “I think this is the saddest book I have ever read.” He replied, “Well I did have to keep handing you Kleenex.” It’s true, I cried so much during this book that I gave myself a headache. Ms. Trigiani made the story so moving and so believable that I felt all the emotions that the characters were feeling throughout the story, and even though I cried, this is a good thing. The plot kept me thoroughly engaged the entire time; I could barely put the book down. I wanted to see what would happen next for Ciro and Enza. I can’t really say this book had a happy ending; it was a totally different ending than I would have expected. It is not at all your traditional love story, though it is one overall. The plot has many twists and turns and a bunch of times you just want to yell at Ciro, “Wake up you fool, what are you thinking!” Ms. Trigiani wrote an amazing book about love, friendship, war, immigrants in America, and loss. I am in love. This is one of my favorite books I have read recently. It was moving and powerful. It was sad and happy at the same time. Ms. Trigiani wrote a magnificent piece on the trials and tribulations of Italian Immigrants who came to America in the early 1900’s, one of my favorite topics since I am an IBM (Italian by marriage) and grew up in NYS where the Italian influence is still strong today. Many of the foods Enza talked about made me smile and think of my husband’s Sicilian family and the recipes I was given by them, some on our wedding day, like the “famous” chocolate cinnamon clove cookies that have been in his family for generations, and the ones I was allowed to have once we moved away and I had proven myself an adequate cook, such as cutlets. Reading this book also made me very hungry for food I have either had to learn to make myself, or go without since we moved away, such as gnocchi, though we make ours in red sauce. Oh and I do know how to pronounce gnocchi properly even though I am German, it was part of my unofficial Italian education upon marriage. I highly recommend this book to anyone. There is a tiny bit of sex, but it is not graphic and they are married if that makes a difference. This book gives the reader a view of life for an immigrant that is filled with history, but is not written in a history book style. This book is a love story, but is also filled with much sadness and has many ups and down, emotionally, throughout the story. This is a great book to take on a vacation, but it is not an entirely lighthearted read, it makes you think a bit. Make sure to keep the tissues close by. I received this book as an ARC. I do not get paid to review books; I do so in order to assist you in recognizing books that you might enjoy. Please read more of my reviews on my blog: sarahereads(dot)wordpress(dot)com
What a wonderful story, I could smell the air, hear the music , and eat the pasta ! I laugh, I cried, and all the while not wanting it to end. There is nothing better than a book that can take you on an adventure, never having to leave your living room!
loved the story line, so naturally had to get the this book. It did not disappoint!
Move over great Italian artists and make room for Adriana Trigiani. She has more than proved herself with THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE. This novel will be a classic for all time and will be enjoyed by generations to come. From what she says this has been in the making for twenty years and aren't we lucky she persevered! Enrico Caruso would love her writing abilities maybe more than her antipasto if he was here among us. I have been following Ms. Trigiani's career for about ten years and while I have loved every one of her novels - and even her cookbook - this book is her best yet. Every page of THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE held my interest with historical facts, geographical lessons, cultural involvements, etc. but the pulsating passion of love and devotion for family captures the greatness of Ms.Trigiani's writing. While this is a novel we learn about the almost-didn't- happen destiny of the author's grandparents on her mother's side. When you are fortunate enough to feast your eyes on the beautiful cover art it will lead you to a fascinating epic within its pages - one you will savor and not soon forget.
Like, most everyone, I really enjoyed this book. I started reading this book while on airplane--was trying to hold back tears-- i think i scared the lady sitting next to me. Well written story. I appreciated that it was a clean book-- no obscene language or sexual undertones. I cried (alot) and laughed alot---I like reading books that make me feel happy. Will recommend it to all my friends
This book was wonderful, I want to be more like Enza, the heroine. She is strong, compassionate, reliable, and practical. This is a story that had I read it at 20, I would have said it was a good story. Having read it with a little life behind me; it is wonderful. When I reread it, having experienced more life...it will be exquisite. If you are looking for strong characters and a belief in the human spirit I highly recommend this book.
What a sweet surprise! This is an epic tale that engulfs the reader. The characters are well-drawn, and their plights are believable, understandable, and richly described. I wished that the book had concentrated more on Ciro and Enza's adult life as opposed to their childhoods. I thought their experiences and lives in NYC and Minnesota were captivating and that the ending was a bit rushed. Still, it was a beautiful book and I savored every word. I hated to see it end.
AN ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL BOOK!! I wished that this book didn't have to end. I enjoyed all the characters and felt like I knew them. It swept me away into another time and era. I love all of Ms. Trigiani's books.
I absolutely loved this book. I enjoy reading about other nationalities and their customs. I have about 30 more pages to go and I hate for it to end but want to come to the conclusion. The characters were wonderful. Laughing and crying at the same time.
Based on the true story of the author's family, this book is beautifully written. It filled with earnest, lively characters with character. These people immigrated to the United States and became a part of America's greatest generation. Their story is romantic and inspiring, and it's real - no storybook ending. It's simply life. The challenges, loss, adventures, and love of these people make it a page-turner in a charming way. I look forward to eventually looking at other books by Mrs. Trigiani.
One of the best books that I have read in a long time!
Loved this book. The characters seemed so real. The storyline kept you wanting to read more. I felt a connection to the characters as my grandparents migrated to the United States from Italy, as did my father. Beautifully written story. You won't be disappointed. I want to read more of this author's books as she tells a well written story line.
I loved this book. One the best books i have ever read. I enjoyed all the italian details. I loved how it spaned meny years and how all the characters fully developed. Great read. I highly recomend.
Lovely tale...swept me away to another time and different places!
I just finished reading 'Shoemaker's Wife'. It was the type of book that was difficult to put down. The characters were so vivid and alive. During certain passages in the book, I had tears in my eyes; I felt emotionally attached to the characters. I completely enjoyed the book and plan to read more Adriana Trigiani books.
A beautiful love story that spans generations. Very relatable to those of us who come have grandparents who were immigrants.
I loved this book. Adriana Trigiani takes me back to Italy and I can feel "LaFamilia" love.
What was it really like, this journey to America? Why did our grandparents and great-grandparents leave in the first place? Did they find the streets paved with gold? This fascinating story of two young immigrants from the same valley in northern Italy, destined to find each other and the happiness their love brings in the New World, will keep you up late and riveted as you follow them in their journey. I'm a genealogist, and this one really brought all those ancestors to life for me. Don't miss this one. A real winner.
I was surprised to read some of the other reviews that didn't praise this book. One reviewer talked about how the two main characters seemed to go from one disaster to another... Well, guess what, for some people that's how life is. I loved the way each of them dealt with their problems and showed us that with enough faith, hour, and hard work anyone can get through problems. The ending was sad in one way, yet even then you could see the same message... That we can get through anything. The book brought tears to my eyes a couple times and I didn't want to put it down, one of the best books I've ever read!!!!
Well written historical fiction The Shoemaker's Wife is a very enjoyable novel. The author definitely knows how to grab the reader in right away. Great character development and a great story. Highly recommended!
I loved this book from the beginning to end. It held my interest and I couldn't put it down. The wonderful thing for me is that I have been to Bergamo in Italy and visualized the scenes as I was reading. Loved this book and can't wait to read another one by Trigiani.
This was so well writen and such a treat to read.
I enjoyed this historical fiction. Well written and researched, it is a novel that keeps you thinking about the characters and their lives even after you have finished reading the book I learned so much about immigrants and their struggles. This is a love story for those who appreciate music, fashion, cooking, family and faith.
You really get to know the characters.