Many people have holiday reading traditions. I, personally, enjoy reading women’s fiction. There is something about fated love set in idyllic scenery that unfurls in a slow, meaningful progression that feels “right” during the holidays, if a bit overdramatic during the rest of the year. For this reason, I was happy to uncover Adriana Trigiani’s richly romantic, elegant historical women’s fiction novel The Shoemaker’s Wife.
Trigiani brings two principle strengths to bear in this master work twenty years in the making: methodical character development and artfully applied historical research.
Straddling the Atlantic, Trigiani brings to life the world of the early twentieth century Italian Alps and the industrializing universe of pre-and-post wartime America with equal, seamless gusto for detail and ambiance. Trigiani intertwines her masterful hand with sensory details, like taste, touch, and sound, with impressively in-depth historical research to paint a transporting, multi-dimensional fresco for her readers. From the texture of boot leather and organza to the taste of homemade pasta to the garlic-like scent of mustard gas to the sound of opera records, Trigiani is endlessly evocative. While she hits all the major historical events of the period, Trigiani remains true to the small facts of history, particularly the tangible ones–clothing, shoes, shops, homes, travel. Essentially, the daily facts of life. Even her dialogues work to maintain the overall visceral aura of The Shoemaker’s Wife.
Outside of Trigiani’s painstakingly crafted world, she devotes equal love and care to the methodical development of her principle, incredibly human characters. Orphaned by his widowed mother, Ciro Lazzari lives in the shadow of loss. Raised by nuns, the local village handyman, and his pious, studious older brother, Ciro comes into his own as a strapping, amiable jack-of-all-trades and romantic. Through a twist of fate, he encounters Enza Ravanelli, the sturdy eldest daughter of a large, impoverished family from a little way up the mountain. Trigiani follows the intersecting lives of Enza and Ciro as they meet and part, only to meet again. While the circuitous route of their love story builds suspense in this long book, it is most fascinating to see how Enza and Ciro grow and change from childhood through old age as their experiences shape them. Trigiani deftly avoids the pitfalls of idealizing her characters while simultaneously ensuring the reader’s emotional investment.
Although, at times, The Shoemaker’s Wife stretches the limits of plausibility, it is meant as an uplifting, moving story about true love, the American dream, and the beauty of crafts like shoemaking that have slowly dwindled in our age of mass production. Immersive and heartwarming, The Shoemaker’s Wife is the perfect book for the holidays. It serves as a reminder of all that we hold dear during this time of year: friendship, family, trust, and love.