By DANA BORICK
Inspired by the lives of her Italian immigrant grandparents, Adriana Trigiani's 12th novel, "The Shoemaker's Wife," intertwines the lives of the Lazzari and Ravanelli families in a series of fateful meetings that ultimately combine into a cross-generational love story.
Ciro Lazzari and his older brother, Eduardo, are sent by their young, widowed mother to live in a convent in Vilminore, Italy, in the early 1900s. The boys are hard-working and respectful, understanding the great opportunity they have been given. So they do every task asked of them, no matter how big or small.
Enza Ravanelli is only 15 years old when her youngest sister dies. Ciro, who was sent to dig the young girl's grave, meets Enza, and the two start a friendship that seemed to be written in the stars.
Over the next decade, the two keep finding each other - even after both take the long trek to Ellis Island, N.Y., at different times and eventually reunite in a New York City hospital. When Enza is asked by a nurse if she believes in signs, she replies, "yes."
Fate, faith and family are central to the plot, as evident from the opening of the book when the young brothers are sent to live in a convent and a nun helps young Ciro escape to America; the nuns all considered themselves mothers and sisters to the brothers. My biggest complaint is with the title of the story, which seals the fate of Ciro and Enza from the beginning. Although that may have been Trigiani's point, I wanted a little more mystery to figure out if the two would end up together.
In the meantime, Enza uses her sewing skills to eventually land a job as a seamstress for the Metropolitan Opera House, while Ciro becomes an apprentice for an Italian shoemaker. Over the next few years, the two keep running into each other, until finally they can be together.
"The world just got smaller now," Ciro tells Enza during a Columbus Day celebration. "You found me again."
While Ciro enlists to fight for America during World War I, Enza begins dating Vito Blazek, who does publicity for the opera house where she works. Vito proposes and Enza accepts, believing he will give her a life where she is placed first.
But she still pines for Ciro and dreams of returning to "their mountain" in Northern Italy.
Ciro, now 24, returns from the war and finds Enza waiting outside the church on her wedding day. He begs her not to marry Vito and she decides to follow Ciro.
Like the operas featured in the book, the plot has ample crescendos and decrescendo to keep pace. The mountains of Italy and the view of Manhattan from the ship are told with such detail that it's hard not to feel like you are there with them. The story is woven with Italian language and culture in a romantic way - even the chapter titles, with their simple words, seem to evoke a feeling of love for an inanimate object, an object that will hold greater meaning to a character in that chapter.
"Ciro had her heart; he was her portion of the mountain," Trigiani writes. "The threads that connected her to Ciro were so strong, it seemed inevitable that they would find one another again and after so long - a sign they were meant to be together."
The two marry in December 1918 and leave Manhattan for a new life in Minnesota. Enza's love for Ciro transcended every other desire; she would follow him across the earth, believing no harm would come to her as long as she loved him.
Nine months later, their only son is born. They name him Antonio, after the patron saint of lost things. In town, Enza begins to sell dance shoes out of her husband's shop and is known as "the shoemaker's wife."
The book has a sugar-coated version of life for immigrants, although Trigiani does mention that both Ciro and Enza are extremely hard workers and don't take anything for granted. It's nice that they are rewarded with the American Dream after their decades of hard work.
It also makes me think of a life where people were rewarded for their skills - sewing and shoemaking - rather than for just being on television. Trigiani describes a lifestyle known to most who grew up in the Greatest Generation and had to work hard to survive; it is a life most Gen Xers cannot comprehend.
In 1930, Ciro receives some bad news - I won't spoil it for you here - and Enza begs Ciro to return to Italy to see their families. Now 36, Ciro returns home to meet his in-laws and be reunited with his brother and mother.
Ciro learns his mother did not abandon the boys as much as she believed the church would "save them." She had faith she was making the right decision.
Trigiani's tale reminds us that family is who you make it to be; blood relatives are not the only family one has in their life.
Although Enza only had one child, a friend tells her, "Children come to us in many ways."
And toward the end of the book, Enza realizes the truth of this statement as she becomes a parent to a friend's young daughter.
The chance encounters of Enza, Ciro and those they love makes the reader wonder if fate really does exist. The story also proves that there's nothing more powerful than love and faith.