Reading The Shoemaker’s Wife is like wrapping yourself up in the coziest blanket on a deck overlooking the ocean and drinking a delicious cup of rich hot chocolate while also having a pedicure. It is such a soothing, comforting, lovely and beautiful read, I wish I could read it all over again.
Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli are two children from the Italian alps in the early 20th century. Ciro and his brother have just been left at a convent, their mother too mentally ill to care for them after the death of their father; Enza is one of six children and fiercely independent, acting as the head of her household. Ciro’s and Enza’s paths cross when they are teenagers and the convent sends Ciro to Enza’s town to dig a grave for her baby sister, Stella, who has succumbed to an unknown illness. Despite the sadness of the occasion the two share an instant romantic connection, but years pass before they meet again.
Ciro has heated words with one of the priests and is therefore banned from the convent and sent to America to work for one of the nun’s cousins, a shoemaker in New York. Enza and her father also go to America, but by choice to make enough money for the Ravanellis to build a new house big enough for the entire family. Enza almost dies on the ship to America due to extreme motion sickness, and she literally bumps into Ciro at St. Vincent’s hospital while being treated (he has recently injured his hand on a shoemaking machine). The meeting doesn’t last long, though, and Enza realizes Ciro has thought about her a lot less than she him.
While Ciro experiences the exciting transformation from immigrant to citizen, Enza is miserably carrying out her servitude to an extremely nasty family in Hoboken (picture a Cinderella/evil stepmother situation) while her father takes up road-building work in California. Enza, an expert seamstress, befriends another immigrant, Laura, while working in their local factory, and soon the two hatch a plan to save enough money to move to New York. Ciro and Enza wind up in the same city once again, but Ciro is involved with another girl and Enza decides she is done waiting for him to come around.
Enza and Laura finally land their dream seamstress jobs at the Metropolitan Opera House, where they work with legendary singers and are exposed to true high society life in Manhattan. Enza allows herself to be wooed by another man and agrees to marry him, until Ciro returns from serving in World War I determined to make Enza his once and for all. (Note: I thought this would be one of those stories where they both marry other people and then decades later, after their spouses are gone, they find each other once again and live happily ever after, but alas, they find each other a lot quicker!) Enza and Ciro finally marry and decide to run off to Minnesota, where Ciro wants to start his own shoemaking shop and Enza her own sewing business. I cannot give away many details of their life past moving to Minnesota, but just know that many of those details are quite sad.
I love this book because it’s truly the story of two people’s entire lives, but it doesn’t feel long or drawn out or boring. Trigiani’s way of writing about Italian food and scenery is unmatched, and I have grown to appreciate her descriptions of immigrant life in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. I love this book about as much as I love Lucia, Lucia, and I cannot wait to gobble up some more Trigiani books. Thank you to my dear friend who introduced me to this marvelous author!