Elizabeth La Lettrice's Reviews > The Shoemaker's Wife

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
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Apr 26, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, life-journey-stories, stories-about-women, italy, italian-writers
Read from April 11 to 25, 2012

I was bawling my eyes out when I finished this book last night. [Now visible in my swollen morning eyes. :) ]

I had never read an Adriana Trigiani book before DESPITE my having read more Italian-American/Italian novels than anyone I know (Italian literature was my major after all). I have read everything from Christ in Concrete, to my once-deemed-favorite-Italian-American-story by Mario Puzo, The Fortunate Pilgrim, to middle-grade fiction The King of Mulberry Street to lesser-known titles like Rosa: The Life of an Italian Immigrant. Needless to say, I almost felt like I’ve seen it all. Trigiani just seemed to me like another chick lit writer hiding under an historical fiction motif.

Now don’t get me wrong. Nothing about this novel is “chick lit” in the stereotypical sense of the word. It was not “light reading” on frivolous subjects like shopping and finding a dreamlike husband. (Yes, I realize my definition of chick lit IS stereotypical, but it is what it is!)

The Shoemaker’s Wife is an example of what should redefine the chick lit genre. This was a love story of the likes I haven’t enjoyed in a long time. (Okay – I’ll admit it - I don’t exactly pick up love stories in the first place.) I would go as far to say that this was an epic love story. It told of a love that transcends time and place and all of the shitty circumstances into which it was thrown. The story is based off of the real-life story of Trigiani’s grandparents’ love affair. If I hadn’t been told that at the end, I would’ve believed it anyway. I think it was the place in which I grew up, immersed in Italian-American culture everywhere I went, that made me have such a strong connection even to the fictionalized accounts of immigrants arriving in America. Every fictionalized character was based on my neighbor down the street’s story, or my classmate’s grandparents, or my very own ancestors – so it was always all real to me. In this book, Enza and Ciro were my grandparents just the same so every time some unfortunate event or pitfall befell them, my heart broke in half. Trigiani captures the emotions of man and woman alike so well that you can’t help think of them as your own.

This novel is an example of what chick lit should be because of the love affair it dedicates to all kinds of women, and their strengths and weaknesses. This is in no way the focus of the book, but its importance should not be ignored. The majority of Italian-American emigration/immigration stories out there focus on the man and his journey leaving the Motherland to work in America and provide for his family back home. After all, that is what history has focused on. But the women, oh the women of these times! The things they endured back home, trying to raise their children with their husbands thousands of miles away, and in a world in which it was much harder for a female to earn an income. Then we meet the women of the convent, seemingly living life outside of the rest of the world but still trapped in a patriarchal society. And young girls like Enza, forced to grow up too soon and to take on responsibilities no young woman should have to worry about. Women like Carla Zanotti, business women working behind the scenes holding everything together. The underappreciated, underestimated sex. So lovingly appreciated in this book. Even the faulty ones.

Ciro had also thought every day at the front about women. What soothed him in the past comforted him even more during the war. He remembered Sister Teresa in the convent kitchen at San Nicola, how she fed him and listened to him. He thought about Felicita's soft skin, the rhythm of her breath, the sleepy satisfaction that enveloped them after making love. He remembered women he had not met but had only seen on Mulberry Street. One girl, eighteen years old in a straw hat, had worn a red cotton skirt with buttons down the back from waist to hem. He thought about the curve of her calf and her beautiful feet, in flat sandals with the one strap of pale blue leather between the toes, as she walked past the shoe shop. He imagined, over and over again, the power of a kiss, and he thought that if he made it out of these trenches, he would never take a single kiss for granted. A woman's hand in his was a treasure; if he held one again, he would pay attention and relish the warm security of a gentle touch.

And things that Italian women say that I love the most:

"Please don't turn into the wife that chases her husband with a broom."

"I won't chase you with a broom... I'll pick up a shovel."

The Shoemaker’s Wife surpassed many of my most beloved Italian-American stories. I think I’ll really have to give Trigiani’s novels some more serious consideration!
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