Clare Cannon's Reviews > The Shoemaker's Wife

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
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's review
Apr 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: adults
Read from March 12 to 21, 2012

An epic tale about leaving the old country to set up life in the new, with all the uncertainty, hard work, devotion and spirit of adventure that it entailed.

When Enza and Ciro meet in the mountains of Italy they are young teenagers growing up in a culture at once rich with history and humble in its simplicity. Different circumstances drive them to leave their homes and set out for the land of opportunity across the ocean. How they meet and part, and part and meet is the substance of the story, and in their lives we come to understand the courageous journey of the immigrant, a journey which most of us will find was taken in some form by ourselves or our ancestors.

It is a hearty tale, neither floating over reality nor becoming bogged down in its detail, incorporating the ups and downs, the loves and struggles of life lived well. One understands what it is to have one’s heart back in the mountains of Italy and at the same time throw one’s all into this new land of opportunity born of hard work. We see sorrowful but necessary departures, the daunting excitement of new beginnings, the need to be daring and inventive and to aim high, and the struggle to bear difficult conditions with patience and hope.

We see lives buffeted and yet somehow made stronger by suffering, with all kinds of hardships from the mundane to the extraordinary. Each character must face their own battles, and yet we see that they are also willing to share each other's burdens to make them lighter.

This is because friendship, love and family are at the heart of this story, on their own these characters could not survive, but together they can win through all. Friendship is based on true self-giving, and the life-giving romance at the centre of the story puts to shame all shallow imitations. We are taken through the struggles of life that can help love to grow, and we understand the importance of family which – even with loss and hardship – is loved and treasured above all.

We also see characters making mistakes and bad choices, and are impressed as they are confronted with forgiveness. Ciro’s young adult life is quite free with women because he doesn’t yet know how to seek the happiness he yearns for. The scenes fade to black, but there is a tone of acceptance for his liberal attitude which, while loose for his own time, would be quite normal by today’s standards. But once he puts his priorities in order he devotes himself to a new life in a way that is both realistic and convincing.

Enza’s commitment to the principles of her parents is in large part cultural, and while ideally it would be lived with deeper conviction, at least in those times culture worked to preserve virtue rather than destroy it.

The story has a beautiful sense of culture which is both appreciated by and contributed to by the immigrants. We meet the great Caruso and fall in love with his music, which for him is life itself. We share the joy of Enza’s discovery of the classics of English literature as she works to improve her language with the help of her young Irish friend. Then there’s Enza’s creativity with her work as a costume seamstress for the opera and the opportunities she wins to socialise with the cultural elite. And even Ciro’s devotion to the art of shoemaking helps one to appreciate this art form anew.

In the Italian background we are shown a cultural faith, as though looking at spiritual devotion from the outside and not understanding it deeply. We meet two very different priests, one at the beginning of the story whose actions lead to scandal, and another later on who is noble and honourable and has given his life to the service of God. The former hurt me a great deal, because it is as though a family member who I hold dear has been tainted by fiction. This type of fiction – based on stereotypical scandal – can only do harm, even if it is not developed very far. It makes me reluctant to recommend this book, though there is so much of value in the rest of the story.

That element aside, the main focus of the story is the immigrant’s contribution to our past, a contribution filled with effort, sacrifice and generosity, honour, dignity and love, vision, patience and hope. It is a journey, a history, to be pondered, a layer of the past that enriches and dignifies our present and awakens an appreciation that can inspire our future.

(Thank you to the author for supplying an advanced copy, and to Lisa for organising it!)
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Reading Progress

03/12/2012 page 401
80.85% "By now this story has my whole heart."

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Mimi Can't get into it! I'm on page 75!! Ive read 2 books already since starting this one! I'm so confused! I pick it up, read a little and put it down! Also the words in my book are very teeny! Help!,

Janet Martin maybe this is not the timing for you to read this story. set it aside and return to it later. it does get better and captures your imagination of how difficult journey was for the immigrants.

Renee Rosen Wonderful review Claire. I'm at about the halfway point and am really enjoying it. I think the author does some interesting things with 3rd person. She takes certain liberties that were a bit jarring at first but now they totally work! Can't wait to get back to the story!

Clare Cannon Thanks Renee, yes, once you get into the story it's hard to leave :)

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