This book is an epic, telling the story of the immigrants, men and women, who built America through their dreams. They overcame huge obstacles in their new, chosen land, to make America the extraordinary success story it is today. These brave people, with their sadness, desperation, and determination, built the US into the land of the free - the greatest nation on earth. And Ciro, the little boy abandoned by his mother in a convent, is typical of how these unlikely heroes courageously took destiny into their own hands. Because he uncovers the unholy habits of the convent's Catholic priest, Ciro is forced to leave. So is his older brother. Eduardo is devout and a scholar, so he is placed in a Rome seminary. Ciro - a religious sceptic, and brave and strong - is sent to America where he is apprenticed to an Italian immigrant shoemaker in New York. I loved the vibrant descriptions if Little Italy in NYC. Then, Enza, a teenage girl Ciro first met back home in his Italian village, re-enters the story. Enza is the heroine of this wonderful book. She, too, has emigrated to the States with her father Marco, because it is the only way they can save their large family back home from terrible poverty. The subsequent tale of how Enza and Ciro meet again in New York; marry, and start a successful business, is captivating. This is a sweeping saga, capturing the sacrifices immigrants made; the fulfilment they found; but above all, the bittersweet love and longing for their Italian homeland - a desire that never left them.
I love Adriana Trigiani's books. They are full of Italian exuberance, detailing with charming warmth the family stories of northern Italians who emigrated to the USA in the early 20th C, and, with much hardship, forged successful lives there. Trigiani's own ancestors are often the subjects of her novels, and I first came across them when I read her Big Stone Gap series; the sense of community, and Italian family values translated to the US and thriving in that country despite the vast culture gap was, and is, immensely seductive. And she continues this Italian sensibility in The Shoemaker's Wife, a novel crammed with love, disappointment, warmth, and seasoned with delicious Italian food. That's a beguiling mixture, and it's hard to resist. The Shoemaker's Wife begins with an adventure at once sad and yet filled with exciting possibility. Two small boys aged five and eight are left by their mother at a convent in the Italian Alps. She is a recent widow, devastated by the death of her husband in faraway pre-Great War America, where, like so many of his compatriots, he had travelled in the hope of making his fortune, working in the productive mines of New Jersey. His death in a mining accident causes his wife to have a nervous breakdown. Hence her abandonment of her two young sons; she consigns them into the care of the nuns on this Italian mountainside, telling them she will come back for them within months. She doesn't. Ciro, and his older brother Eduardo, are left at the convent for ten years, at the mercy of the nuns, who are (fortunately) kind. The boys work hard and are happy. Then their stability and security is destroyed.