Is happily ever after an illusion? Is there really only one person for each soul? Do we often choose our partners for the wrong reasons and is that why marriages tend to have a higher failure rate?
In The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, we find ourselves immersed in the lives of two young boys who are given over to a convent for nurture when their father is killed in a mine accident and their mother no longer has the immediate means to raise them. With every intention of coming back for them once she is on her feet, she disappears and they are left to the mercies of the church. Different personalities and looks the brothers are none the less, the closest of friends.
The nuns grow to love them, the elder brother Edward plans on dedicating his life to religion but Ciro does not have any interest in that direction. He is large and imposing even from a young age, and takes after his father. Not sure what he will do, he is very like most boys as they mature. He loves girls, and is constantly in love with one or another, always seeming to get his heart broken. But he does not care, he finds life to be exciting and he is well loved in return for his gregarious nature.
When Ciro sets sights on one of the loveliest girls in the village where he resides in the Italian Alps, he does not realize that he is not only doomed to failure, but that his life will suddenly take a turn that will twist him away from all he knows and loves and put him into a country across the ocean just coming into its own, America.
Following his heart he decides to approach his lovely soon-to-be conquest, only to find her in the arms of the priest. Unsure where to turn he takes his concern back to the convent, but finds that while they are not surprised the sisters understand that the priest is inviolate. As Ciro loses his job with the church and while he waits to see what will happen, he takes on a job of digging the grave for a family farther away. The youngest sibling has perished, and little does he know it, but meeting the eldest sister Ensa, a young woman his own age, he finds their fates intertwined time after time, and as he agrees to see her again, he finds himself shipped off to America.
Knowing he will never see her again, he decides that a life with her was not to be a part of his life. Little does he know that Ensa and her father too have decided to move to America in order to make a better life for their family back home. Will fate take a stand?
Trigiani gives us such wonderful characters, full of bluster and yet strong and charismatic. Those characters that have flaws are just as important in the lives and dreams of those they come into contact with. The emotion throughout the story keeps you reading, and hoping for happily ever after. Can her characters sustain their highs? Does right really have a place in how interconnected people become, often unknowingly? The story moves from Italy to America and through it all you can visualize the places and their mysteries.
Trigiani shares the plights of those who come into America, unable to speak the language as well as the trials and tribulations of finding work and making a living, often have to rely on those who may not have their best interests at heart. Each of her characters makes their place in the world through persistence and pride, but it is when they continue to meet time after time, in different ways that you begin to wonder if there is a fate in store.
I laughed and I cried throughout the story, and found The Shoemaker’s Wife to be a perfect mix of emotions. There is something truly magical and inspiring about her characterization and her amazing ability to bring you into her work.
I would recommend this work for anyone who enjoys a wonderful and heartfelt story; there is history, religion, war, and romance–something for everyone. I would recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife as a fine book for your library, one you could read time and again, and find even more interest with each reading. This would be a wonderful book for a book club or reading group, and would create a great deal of discussion.