A long list of life events, without the emotional depth to draw readers in.

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THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE

Despite its girth, Trigiani’s latest saga of Italian life lies flat on the page.

A portrait of early 20th-century Italian immigration, the story starts with two children in the Italian Alps. In one mountain village, serious, hardworking Enza lives with her large family; in another, rascal Ciro and his brother Eduardo are orphans at the convent. When 16-year-old Ciro travels to Enza’s village to dig the grave of her little sister, the two meet for the first time, and Enza falls in love. But soon after, Ciro is sent to America (he caught the priest kissing a girl) to apprentice as a shoemaker. Trigiani’s novels often bask in Italian culture, and this latest is no exception, taking place during the great wave of Italian immigration. New York’s Little Italy is a joyous place, and handsome, outgoing Ciro fits right in. A few years later, Enza and her father go to America (just to make enough money to dig their family out of poverty), and Ciro and Enza briefly meet again. Enza, a talented seamstress, first works in a factory, and then finds her way to becoming a costumer at the Metropolitan Opera House. Life at the Met is a dream for Enza as she works for the great Caruso. Meanwhile, World War I has begun and Ciro leaves behind his comfortable life at the shop (and all the beauties) on Mulberry Street to enlist. In the trenches, he dreams about Enza (though why he never bothered with her before is unclear) while she is getting ready to marry another. Love wins out as Ciro and Enza marry then move to Minnesota to start a business and a family. Much more happens, but Trigiani’s wide rush of plot hardly makes up for a dull heroine and a novel filled with workaday prose.

A long list of life events, without the emotional depth to draw readers in.   

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-125709-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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