Behind The Shoemakerâ€™s Wife
by Adriana Trigiani
1. The novel is split into three parts: Italian Alps, Manhattan and Minnesota.Â Â How would you characterize Ciro and Enza in each of these sections? How do they adapt to their new homes? In what ways did they change over the course of the novel? In what ways did they remain the same?
2. How would the course of both Ciroâ€™s and Enzaâ€™s lives have been different if they hadnâ€™t gone to America?Â Do you think they would have ended up together if they had stayed on the mountain?
3. Enza and Ciro shared their first kiss beside Stellaâ€™s grave. In what ways did digging the grave open up Ciroâ€™s heart?
4. When Ciro opened up his duffle bag on the ship to America, â€śthe fragrance of the convent laundry â€“ lavender and starch â€“ enveloped him, fresh as the mountain air of Vilminoreâ€ť (p. 120).Â What other aspects of convent life stayed with Ciro and Eduardo after they left? Â What did they learn from the sisters?
5. Enza â€śfound a best friend in Laura, but so much moreâ€ť (p. 195). What do you think made Laura and Enzaâ€™s bond so deep from the beginning? In what ways did they support one another?
6. Did anything surprise you about the characterization of Enrico Caruso? How would you describe his relationship with those around him? How did the time he spent with Enza and Laura affect them, even decades later?
7. How does The Shoemakerâ€™s Wife portray the immigrant experience? Do any of your own families have a similar immigrant history? Did they have a different experience?
8. Enza and Ciro have different views of religion. In what ways do their beliefs shape their actions and relationship?
9. How do you think Enzaâ€™s life would have turned out if she had married Vito? If Ciro had married FelicitĂˇ? What did Vito and FelicitĂˇ offer them and what did they lack?
10. Carlo Lazzari warned Eduardo to â€śbeware the things of this world that can mean everything or nothingâ€ť.Â In what ways did this advice ring true throughout the novel?
11. What effect did fighting in the Great War have on Ciro? Do you believe he returned to Manhattan a changed man, or did the war just force him to acknowledge what he had known all along?
12. When Ciro saw Enza on the steps of Our Lady of Pompeii church, moments away from marrying Vito, â€śit seemed like fate was on his side.â€ť Do you believe that fate brought Ciro and Enza together on that day? Overall, do you believe that Ciro and Enza were destined to be together?
13. Enza once said to Ciro: â€śI remind you, I imagine, of things youâ€™d rather not think about.â€ť What do you believe Enza meant by this? What challenges did Ciro and Enza face in their relationship? How did they differ in their ways of communicating?
14. How did Ciro, Enza and Antonio each react to Ciroâ€™s diagnosis? What were Ciroâ€™s fears and hopes for his family? In what ways will Enza and Antonio fulfill his dreams?
15. At the end of the novel, Enza agrees to return to Italy with Antonio and Angela. How do you imagine the reunion between Enza and her family? How will Schilpario be different for Enza when seen through Angela and Antonioâ€™s eyes?
Behind The Book
It started with a three foot stack of vinyl records, the old black discs upon which Enrico Caruso recorded the greatest arias of the opera.Â My grandmother Lucia collected all of his records and played them over and over again. Her absolute devotion to The Great Voice lasted her whole life long. I knew, in order to write this novel, I had to fall in love with Caruso too, because he sang the score of my grandparents love affair.
Iâ€™m a latecomer to the opera. I knew a few arias, and had a minimal knowledge of the great composers. I was working in Los Angeles in 1994 and went to see The Three Tenors by myself. I was compelled by the recent loss of my grandmother, and thought somehow, that the concert would illuminate something for me or provide some comfort as I grieved. After all it was her music.Â I climbed into my seat, sat amongst strangers and leaned in as if to look for something.
The orchestra was sublime. I developed an instant crush on Placido Domingo.Â Jose Carreras was razor sharp and focused. Pavarotti was warm and looked like one of my cousins twice removed. As the music washed over me, I began to understand why my grandmother was such a fan.Â The words were Italian, and the emotions were big, nothing was left unexpressed in the music. If only life were that way.
The Shoemakerâ€™s Wife has been my artistic obsession.Â I have long been fascinated by my grandparents love story because it was a dance with fate.Â Itâ€™s one of those stories that had so many near misses against the landscape of world events that itâ€™s a wonder they got together at all. My challenge was to present their world to you, beginning in the Italian Alps in 1905 in all its truth and particularity so it might feel it was happening in the moment. The story had to feel fresh, progressive and airy.Â I wanted my reader to have the experience I had when stories were told to me by the woman who lived them.
My grandparents were born in interesting times, on the cusp of the 20th Century as machines began to turn out shoes that were once made only by hand, as Enrico Caruso recorded the great voice on vinyl, as the first World War took hold and swept my grandfather into the belly of it.Â The pace of their lives began to race as machines, airplanes and cars made the world modern.Â My grandfather threw himself into the changes, naming his shoe business The Progressive Shoe Shop.Â He was in lock step with times, or at least, he hoped to be.
My grandparents sense of wonder never left them, so I tried not to let it leave the page.Â A cross country train ride, a standing room only ticket to hear Caruso, the first snap of the bobbin on a electric Singer sewing machine was new to them, and I wanted you to feel the delight that they experienced every time America presented them with something they had never seen before. Their lives, at the turn of the twentieth century were the very essence of modern.Â Everything was new, cars, phones, planes, electricity, even sportswear, and within the various innovations and creations was a kind of explosive potential. No one could predict where all the inventions would lead, they only knew that change was unavoidable.
I would return to this story in between the work on my other novels and noodle with it.Â There are many scraps of paper, including dinner napkins and the backs of old bills with a long line drawn across as I fiddled with the timeline. There are old notebooks filled with my grandmotherâ€™s musings that I wrote down as far back as 1985.Â I had bits of things, a random collection of train tickets, copies of ships manifests, and a silk tag with my grandmotherâ€™s name which she sewed into the backs of garments she had created.Â All these little things began to add up to something. I thought of Luciaâ€™s stitch work, uniform, clean and perfect, and the thought of her artistry inspired me to stay with this story.
As it often goes with my novels, I walk around telling the story over and over again, to anyone who will listen until I can no longer resist the impulse to write it down.Â I traveled as far as the Italian Alps and as close the few blocks it takes me to walk to Little Italy in New York City to bring you the historical aspects of the story.Â It was a delicious gestation period. I worked on this story for over twenty years as I wrote scripts andÂ novels and had my own family.
My travels got me to thinking about what it meant to be an immigrant, then and now.Â What a gift immigrants are to this country. They bring their talents and loyalty, and make our country even greater. My grandparents were proud to be new Americans.Â Assimilation was not about copying an American ideal, but aspiring to their own version of it.Â The highest compliment you could pay a fellow immigrant was he (or she) was a hard worker. I hear the phrase, work like an immigrant, said, but really, itâ€™s bigger than that- we must also dream like immigrants.
My grandparents believed anything was possible if only they worked hard and had a teaspoon of luck. That old chutzpah still resonates, that magnificent moxie still remains, that drive to give their families the best of themselves, no matter the sacrifice, is still alive in us. This century is a return to the struggle.Â I found great solace in my grandparentsâ€™ courage. They were not alone. There were millions just like them.
When I was presented with the shipâ€™s manifests of my grandparents separate journeys from Italy to America, imagine my elation as a writer when the box was checked that they could read and write. That was no small miracle at the turn of the last century.Â They placed the value of education, of reading and writing up at the top of their list, above survival. I wonder if they ever thought the written word might carry the spirit of their history forward.Â I hope I see them again someday so I might know.
It is my highest dream and most humble honor to present the fictionalized story ofÂ the life of my grandfather, a shoemaker, and his true love, my grandmother, a seamstress, who was most proud to be The Shoemakerâ€™s Wife.
New York City,Â January 4, 2012