The Shoemaker's Wife

Adriana Trigiani

Nestled high in the Italian Alps lies Vilminore, home to Ciro, a strapping mountain boy. Close by lives Enza, a practical girl who longs only for a happy life for her family. When the two meet as teenagers, it seems it could be the start of a life together...Then Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal and is sent to America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy, leaving behind a bereft Enza. Her family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to flee to America with her father to secure their future. Unbeknownst to one another, Ciro and Enza build fledgling lives in New York. Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job, until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza must learn to forge a life without him. From the stately mansions of New York's Upper East Side to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever...

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Reading Group Questions

Author interview with Richard and Judy

Recipes from The Shoemaker’s Wife



I love Adriana Trigiani’s books. They are full of Italian exuberance, detailing with charming warmth the family stories of northern Italians who emigrated to the USA in the early 20th C, and, with much hardship, forged successful lives there.

Trigiani’s own ancestors are often the subjects of her novels, and I first came across them when I read her Big Stone Gap series; the sense of community, and Italian family values translated to the US and thriving in that country despite the vast culture gap was, and is, immensely seductive.

And she continues this Italian sensibility in The Shoemaker’s Wife, a novel crammed with love, disappointment, warmth, and seasoned with delicious Italian food. That’s a beguiling mixture, and it’s hard to resist.

The Shoemaker’s Wife begins with an adventure at once sad and yet filled with exciting possibility. Two small boys aged five and eight are left by their mother at a convent in the Italian Alps. She is a recent widow, devastated by the death of her husband in faraway pre-Great War America, where, like so many of his compatriots, he had travelled in the hope of making his fortune, working in the productive mines of New Jersey.

His death in a mining accident causes his wife to have a nervous breakdown. Hence her abandonment of her two young sons; she consigns them into the care of the nuns on this Italian mountainside, telling them she will come back for them within months.

She doesn’t. Ciro, and his older brother Eduardo, are left at the convent for ten years, at the mercy of the nuns, who are (fortunately) kind. The boys work hard and are happy. Then their stability and security is destroyed.


This book is an epic, telling the story of the immigrants, men and women, who built America through their dreams. They overcame huge obstacles in their new, chosen land, to make America the extraordinary success story it is today.

These brave people, with their sadness, desperation, and determination, built the US into the land of the free – the greatest nation on earth.

And Ciro, the little boy abandoned by his mother in a convent, is typical of how these unlikely heroes courageously took destiny into their own hands.

Because he uncovers the unholy habits of the convent’s Catholic priest, Ciro is forced to leave. So is his older brother. Eduardo is devout and a scholar, so he is placed in a Rome seminary. Ciro – a religious sceptic, and brave and strong – is sent to America where he is apprenticed to an Italian immigrant shoemaker in New York.

I loved the vibrant descriptions if Little Italy in NYC.

Then, Enza, a teenage girl Ciro first met back home in his Italian village, re-enters the story.

Enza is the heroine of this wonderful book. She, too, has emigrated to the States with her father Marco, because it is the only way they can save their large family back home from terrible poverty.

The subsequent tale of how Enza and Ciro meet again in New York; marry, and start a successful business, is captivating.

This is a sweeping saga, capturing the sacrifices immigrants made; the fulfilment they found; but above all, the bittersweet love and longing for their Italian homeland – a desire that never left them.

Reviews & Comments

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  • What a beautiful book. I cried. I have read books by Adirana Trigliani before and loved them. This was no exception. It did make me feel hungry every time I read it though and I do feel as if a cookbook is required for every page with food on it so you can savour the food whilst enjoying and loving the characters. Beautifully written.


  • I loved this book so much. One of my favourites by far. Sad in places but absolutely rivetting. I thoroughly recommend it.

    sharon roskell

  • read a book by this same author some years ago about a young girl who left home to go make fancy shoes, she would buy ribbons and lace and buttons to decorate them with, I vividly remember these parts fo the book and wonder if the book I read is the same as this one, can anyone help me plaese as I don't want to buy the Shoemakers wife if this is the same book.

    Hazel denton

  • This book is beautiful. The descriptions of the scenery are fabulous and I loved how the author took you on the journey with some historical content. recommended to friends and family.

    justine barrett

  • Just wonderful. Can't praise the book enough. Her characters are so believable, I loved her main characters and her descriptions of Italy and then later in America just took me there, and the food! A great book.


  • I enjoyed the book but didn't rave about like the other comments. However it really made me want to visit the parts of Italy described and you care about the characters. Would recommend to read

    Su Trinder

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