The Shoemaker's Wife

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Trigiani, Adriana

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.

Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.

From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.

This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. One of the overarching themes of The Shoemaker's Wifeis the interconnectedness of human lives and events:

Ciro had begun to notice the...seemingly disparate pieces of his experience weren't so separate after all.... He figured that all the threads of his experience would eventually be sewn together, taking shape in harmony and form to create a glorious work of art.

a) Talk about the way this connectedness plays out in the novel.
b) Does it play out in your own life? Do you see life as a series of random experiences—or is there a larger scheme in place that eventually connects people and events?

2. Ciro's motto is "Beware the things of this world that can mean everything or nothing." What does he mean? How does one discern the difference between things that mean "everything"...and things that mean "nothing"?

3. How would you describe the Lazzari brothers? Outwardly they seem very different—in what ways are they also similar? What do you make of their mother's decision to turn them over to the convent—is it "abandonment"? What lasting effect, emotionally, does her leaving them have on their lives?

4. Why does Ciro become a favorite of the nuns? What character traits does he display as a boy that he will come to depend on as he makes his way in America?

5. Why does the corrupt priest have so much power—why do the nuns feel they are unable to confront him? Does the author's use of this incident—as a key turning point in the novel—disturb you? Is she interjecting a personal attitude toward the Church? Or is this a legitimate, viable plot point? What do you make of the fact that Eduardo later becomes a priest?

6. Talk about Enza? What kind of young woman is she? What do you find admirable about her?

7. Why are Enza and Ciro drawn to one another? Enza "had something that Ciro had not seen in any girl before—she was curious." Why would curiosity appeal to Ciro? What does Enza see in Ciro?

8. The novel is told through the twin perspectives of Ciro and Enza. Do you appreciate the alternating point of view...or find it distracting? Why might Adriana Trigiani have chosen to tell the story through two characters rather than a single omniscient narrator?

9. Describe the friendship that develops between Enza and Laura when the two meet as factory workers? What does each do for the other?

10. How would you describe the role of family in this book? To what degree have the traditions and values of the family changed today? Do you believe family ties and commitments, especially for 2nd and 3rd generation of immigrants, remain as strong as they were 100 years ago?

11. Talk about the struggles of the Lazzaris and the Ravanellis—a mother must give up her sons, and a young woman must leave her family and country. How typical were those hardships in lives of families and individuals who eventually emigrated to America? Do any of those stories mirror events in your own family history? In what way did hardship shape the ambitions of immigrants and their pursuit of the American dream?

12. Talk about the way in which the author portrays immigrant life in America at the turn of the 20th century. What struck you most about how immigrants lived in New York and elsewhere?

13. The novel takes place during a time of monumental cultural and societal changes—the automobile, telephone, electricity, airplanes, and two great wars fought on a worldwide scale. How did those changes affect the characters' lives...or the ways in which the characters thought about their lives? What would the cumulative effect of those changes have felt like to you?

14. What is the significance of the novel's cover, the woman in the strapless red gown? The photo ran in a 1949 issue of Harper's Bazaar—how does it relate to the story?

15. PLOT SPOILER. If you didn't know this story was inspired by the author's own grandparents, did you believe that Enza and Ciro would eventually become reunited? Did you find the frequency of their meetings and separations drawn-out and tiresome...or did their separations build suspense and create a vicarious longing on your part?

16. Do you find the details about opera interesting, particularly the behind-the-scene view? Are you familiar with opera—have you come away with a greater appreciation of the art form...or not?

17. Have you read other works by Adriana Trigiani? If so, which ones, and how does The Shoemaker's Wife compare? Do you foresee a sequel to this novel? If so, what direction would it take?

(Questions by LitLovers)