Cristina's Library

Joie de livres

Tag: New York City

The Shoemaker’s Wife

“Did you like Canada when you first arrived?”
“Never,” she replied in her broken English. “I like nothing when I come here. The people, the food, the cold…
veramente niente.”
“Never,” she repeated quietly, looking away. Her face sagged, wrinkles delicately folding into one another. The corners of her mouth curved downwards, two parallel roads. “I never like it, and I never will. I missed my life, my friends. My house. My Italy.”
I nodded, slowly turning an orange around in my hands, caressing its scaly skin for a soft spot to peel into. I said nothing for a moment, saddened by this thought, that someone could live for over 40 years in a country eternally unhappy, disconnected.
“But, I have no choice back then,” she sighed. “Ok
basta, Cristina. No more question.”
Irritated, my grandmother reached out to stab her thumb through the orange for me, peeling off a small chunk. She shuffled away in the embellished cork-heeled sandals that she insisted on wearing inside, leaving me alone at the kitchen table.


These days, I can’t write reviews for every book I read (and I read a lot!). Life, busy-ness, business, writing, and work take up so much of my time. But there are some books that truly touch me on a different level, and I feel compelled in my heart to write about them. I have to write about them. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani is one of those books.

If you were wondering about the above piece, it is a conversation I had with my grandmother, my nonna Franca, not long before starting The Shoemaker’s Wife. Perhaps that’s why it hit me so hard. In the early 1960s, with very little in their pockets, my father and his siblings, and my mother’s parents, made the week-long boat journey from Italy to Halifax to try to build a better life for their families. They had not known each other, but later met in Toronto after fatefully moving onto the same street. Although I’ve heard the stories so many times, I can’t imagine the incredible sense of isolation and fear, excitement and elation, felt by immigrants coming to North America, to a country they had only heard about distantly, and seen in their dreams – but this book puts it all into perspective.

The Shoemaker’s Wife was the most enchanting book I’ve read this year. This is a sweeping historical epic, a kind of double bildungsroman, following the lives of two characters from teenage years in the Italian Alps, to adulthood in New York City and, later, Minnesota. It is a book that, with credit to its stunning, elegant writing, at once made me feel nostalgic, though I’ve never lived in the early 1900s, and engaged, as the history and culture were so similar to that of my own. By the end of the novel, I was in tears, my heart aching, deeply touched by the characters and their lives. They became a part of me. Trigiani beautifully describes intricate details of Italian and Italian-American culture, all of their glories and triumphs, the tolerable and the celebrated – and the food! Oh, THE FOOD. Cooking is a fine art, a tradition, a vehicle of expression, a way that families were brought together and kept alive, and it is deliciously portrayed as such throughout the entire book. Every manner of Italian is perfectly sketched out, from the awful Signora Buffa to gentle Sister Teresa, the rambunctious, hopelessly romantic young Ciro, and practical Enza, whose meaning in life and love lies with family.

Trigiani is a bestselling author, as well as a prolific playwright and screenwriter, and I could immediately tell in her writing – specifically, in the dialogue and detailed setting. Dramatic devices cropped up, from juxtaposition to scene contrast (ie. one scene taking place in two separate rooms), making the story that much more interesting  In my mind, I was watching the play. It is a long book, but don’t let that deter you. When the curtains closed, I wanted an encore.

Unfortunately, I notice a few reviews calling this book “a great beach read” or “a great summer read”, but it is so much more than that. It is so much more important than that. I need to give it the justice it deserves. You will fall in love with the story, the characters, the era, the many cultures, and New York City, of course (if you haven’t already had the pleasure of doing so). A beautiful love story, and a touching tribute to the immigrants that built America, The Shoemaker’s Wife is a must read.


Rules of Civility

“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.”

Every now and then, I have the pleasure of reading a book that I can’t stop thinking about. This is how I feel about Rules of Civility. I can’t think of one person I would not recommend it to. Gin martinis, late-night escapades, jazz bands, and discrete Greenwich Village bars form the mortar of Amor Towles’ fantastic work. To those of you who have not yet read it: what are you waiting for? Rules of Civility is the contemporary, quintessential New York City novel.
Glamorous period detail will ensure that you are swept into the story, silk stockings askew, waiting to hail the next cab down 5th Ave. I wish! With lyrical prose, acute style, and careful, detail-driven scene-building, the novel exhibits as much cinematography as it does literary technique. While reading, it felt like I was watching a movie in my mind (and film rights have already been optioned!) As soon as I got into it, I could not put it down. I needed to know what happened, and how, and why.
Told from the vantage point of an older woman, Katey, looking back on her life, it’s a sophisticated, well-written interlude between New York City in the glittering 30s to the one of today. It’s about the friendships, the fateful events, the interconnected choices, the nightclubs, the getaways, and the never-ending lives of 20-somethings careening down Park Avenue to somewhere, Gatsby’s green light shining before them. Towles says that he wanted to show how the decisions we make in our twenties affect the rest of our lives. It makes you think about the right choices you’ve made in your life, and what you gave up in doing so. Meet Tinker, Eve, and Katey, three friends destined to change each other – and themselves.
When I connected the end to the beginning, I felt a gnawing sadness in my heart, for the 30s, and the characters, and the present, where the story begins, for all of it – but I knew it was the right ending. Sometimes, people meet to fall in love, or to become friends, or to help each other grow and move on. Life’s impenetrable reality cast glaring headlights on the tale. If it’s all supposed to happen in a certain way, then why do we try so hard to assuage the truth?
But I’m not about to give away the story. You’ll have to find out for yourself.