Review of The Shoemaker’s Wife
By Adriana Trigiani (Goodreads Author)
I was never supposed to read this book. I read, and review, the weird, those books which; take the world, shake it up and make you view those places you do not wish to encounter. This book does not fit in that category. But, every now and then, I like to take a meandering journey through literary and mainstream fiction. This is one of these occasions. In addition, I never meant to get this book from the library. I swore that, while I would pick up my mom’s fix of crime novels, I would not take out any books for myself. I had too many books waiting for me on my TBR pile. I swore that I would be strong and not touch any books that I hadn’t ordered. But, those evil enablers (better known as Halesowen library staff) had other ideas. They put this book, by one of my favourite authors, on display right by the exit to the library. Can you blame me for yielding to temptation?
I encountered the work of this author through a reading group which was, strangely enough, organised by Halesowen library. We read, the first book in her Big Stone Gap trilogy, Big stone gap. I loved it. Therefore, I went on to read the rest of the books in this series and loved those too. Then other books got in the way and I lost touch of this author’s work. I am glad that Halesowen Library staff tempted me to re- connect with this much loved author.
It is the story of a love affair between two young people: Circo, who is an orphan brought up, with his twin, in a convent; and, Enza a young mountain girl from an impoverished, but loving, family. They first meet in their home town. But, due to tragic events, they are soon forced to part. From then on; their journeys connect, and disconnect, intermittently throughout the first stages of their lives. The reader follows them across the globe from; a small village in the Alps, through New York, to a small Middle American Town. At the same time, it tracks their life journey through a period of history that spans the two world wars.
While this relationship is at the heart of this book, in my opinion, it is its weakest strand. I just don’t believe that these two young people, who had spent so little time together, would fall so completely in love. This is particularly true, and particularly troubling, when you realise that they are at a low point in their lives when they meet. Enza feels guilt for the death of her sister which was caused by a disease contracted when the child was in Enza’s care. Circo too had suffered a cruel disappointment at the hands of a young woman. They are then cruelly separated by unforeseen tragic events. Unbeknownst to each other, they both flee to New York. They live separate lives, forming relationships with other people. In particular, Circo makes many, fleeting, romantic liaisons. The two reconnect only to be driven apart again when Circo has to go and fight in the trenches of WW1. While he is away at the front, Enza builds a really good life for herself. She meets a lifelong friend. With her friend, she works really hard to escape her situation and find her dream job, sewing at The Metropolitan Opera Company, where; she meets friendly people, undertakes work that she finds fulfilling and meets her hero Enrico Caruso. Given her happy life, I found it slightly irritating, and hard to believe, that a strong woman would give up a life that she has worked hard for, and travel across America to an unknown town, simply to marry a young man whom she has met only a few times: especially when you consider, that on those occasions he is; infatuated with, or dating, someone else. I know this is a convention of most romantic fiction but I find it slightly unbelievable.
The story is brought to life when the author narrates and describes; the individual stories of the main characters, the friends that they make along the way and the places they visit. In fact, her description of place makes this story a joy to read. The author seems to have an ability to create really warm characters and make the reader fall in love with them. Whomever she is writing about, be it: our two main protagonists; the nuns, with whom Circo and his twin, are placed when their mother can no longer care for them; the people who live in the surrounding village; or The New York family who take Circo into their lives, hearts and home (teaching him a skill that will provide him with fulfilling work for the rest of his life), the author has managed to create an all-consuming world and people it with engrossing, and likeable, characters. Despite my reservations, I loved this book and it will not be the last thing that I read from this author.