I liked this family saga of immigration, near-misses in love and brushes with greatness, with the appropriate doses of disappointment and sadness. It is a light and entertaining read. I enjoyed reading about Italy at the turn of the century and life in the Italian Alps. The author does a nice job bringing the main characters to life.
I think the author’s strengths lie in the story’s initial setting and characters. Her early descriptions of Ciro, Eduardo and their mother are moving. In addition, Trigiani’s descriptions of the Ravanelli family show warmth and devotion. It is the foundation of a really great story.
I think the story slows down considerably once the characters move to New York. And with that, the plot begins to take on unrealistic coincidences and the characters assume superhuman qualities. It’s incredible that Enza has time to sew all her clothes, and very fashionable ones too, while she is working day and night for the Buffa family. And it’s quite astonishing that one day she is hired as a seamstress for the Metropolitan Opera House, and within days she is Caruso’s expert costume designer and cooking gnocchi for him and his cast!
I also think the introduction of historical figures makes the story stiff and the dialogue slow, maybe because the author has to rely on actual events and personalities that do not blend as smoothly with the fictional characters.
Ciro’s success as a shoemaker and his assimilation into New York life move at a believable pace. I enjoyed this part of the story much more. Despite the unlikely nature of meeting Enza on her wedding day, we all know it is coming and accept the feel-good moment.
This is a long book, full of descriptions and similes and metaphors and would have been better if the author had held back on these. One description particularly stuck with me as forced: “The crisp autumn air was cold and sweet, like vanilla smoke.” I am not sure what that means. The author’s description of a train leaving, “watching until the silver train disappeared like a sewing needle into thick wool,” seems contrived. It also bothered me to read a letter from Ciro to Eduardo in which Ciro, who is portrayed as a simple character, claims he is not good at describing things, and then goes on to write a highly descriptive passage, full of big words.
Some other parts I like include Ciro’s relationship with Sister Teresa at the San Nicola Convent. I also like how Ciro is accepted for who he is at the convent, and how the nuns do not force him to be a believer.
An entertaining read and a great way to escape to another time and place!
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