Inspired by the lives of her own grandparents, who came to America from northern Italy in the early 20th century, Adriana Trigiani’s “The Shoemaker’s Wife” might be considered the ur-story behind her string of heartwarming family sagas. Free from the high-fashion brand names that infested the past couple of novels, this one is an old-fashioned, romantic tale of two star-tangled lovers, Enza Ravanelli and Ciro Lazzari. Beginning in the Italian Alps, the story travels by various routes to New York’s Little Italy, a Hoboken factory, backstage at the Metropolitan Opera, Minnesota’s Iron Range and the trenches of France. A love story, yes, but also a paean to artisanal work, food, friendship and family.
Ciro lives with his brother, Eduardo, in a convent in the town of Bergamo, deposited there when Ciro was 10 by their mother, who promised to return but did not. Although the sorrow and mystery of this abandonment are a constant presence in their hearts, the boys have made a good life with the nuns. Eduardo serves as secretary, accountant and calligrapher, and Ciro spends his days “tending the fireplaces, milking the cow, churning the butter, twisting fresh braids of scamorza cheese, chopping wood, shoveling coal, washing windows, scrubbing floors.”