Q&A: Adriana Trigiani, Author of The Shoemaker’s Wife

By Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

Adriana Trigiani, author of the Big Stone Gap series and novels such as Lucia, Lucia and Very Valentine, has long delighted fans with her books featuring vibrant Italian American characters and families. Her latest release, The Shoemaker’s Wife (LJ 3/1/12), published on April 3, sees Trigiani apply her gifts to a new genre‚ historical fiction. The book follows the love story of two early 20th-century Italian immigrants to the United States and explores the charms of rural Italy as well as the diversity and excitement of life in America. Trigiani, winner of the 2010 RUSA Reading List Award for women’s fiction, draws on both historical research and on her own family’s story to create her tale of perseverance and strong family ties.

Your grandfather Carlo Bonicelli was a shoemaker, and you’ve featured Italian shoemakers in previous novels as well. How much did your own family history influence The Shoemakers Wife?

I’m influenced by family history and obsessed by it. I find everything in the history of my family: love, craftsmanship, grief, disappointment, and, of course, joy. The research process was like working on a very intricate puzzle. There were surprises, frustrations, and connections.
It was wild. (By the way, I felt the pressure of my RUSA award as I was researching‚ couldn’t let my librarians down!)

The novel is the story of both Ciro and Enza, yet the title emphasizes Enza’s role in events. Why did you choose that title for the book?

The final heartbeat of the novel is Enza on her own, and I wanted the title to convey that grace note.

While struggling to find her way in New York, Enza discovers an unexpected connection to home through the music of the Metropolitan Opera and her friendship with acclaimed Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. What drew you to use the Met and Caruso?

My grandmother Lucia was the ultimate Enrico Caruso fan, so in homage to her, I went on a research binge about the opera when Caruso was king and my grandmother was working as a teenager in the factories of Hoboken, NJ.

The beauty of being a novelist is that I could place my grandmother with Caruso as his seamstress at the Met. I think she would have gotten a kick out of that. Here’s the crazy thing‚ I wasn’t a big opera fan until I focused on Caruso during the research process. Besides the great voice, Caruso was a real personality‚ he was funny, gregarious, and a forward-thinking businessman. Now, I carry a torch for him!

What was the biggest difference in your writing process between creating this book and your more contemporary novels?

The processes were so different. The Shoemaker’s Wife took 20 years to come to fruition. When I write a contemporary novel, like the Valentine series, I have to live in the moment, stay in the present while predicting what might be au courant a year from now. With historical fiction, the goal is to infuse the past with a contemporary feeling so that the reader’s imagination ignites on her terms and she doesn’t want to leave the world created on the page. I have written many novels in the first person, which I love. The Shoemaker’s Wife is told in the third person, a process that terrified me. But I dove in, and the terror gave way to what I hope my librarians will hold up as my best work thus far.

Do you have any other historical fiction projects planned?

I will run out of years before I run out of stories. I just hope to get better with each novel, and, for sure, working on The Shoemaker’s Wife for so many years gave me the tools to create new worlds down the line. I hope my beloved librarians stick with me every step of the way. My mother (the librarian) would approve!