Back-of-the-book blurb: It is 1950 in glittering, vibrant New York City. Lucia Sartori is the beautiful twenty-five-year-old daughter of a prosperous Italian grocer in Greenwich Village. The postwar boom is ripe with opportunities for talented girls with ambition, and Lucia becomes an apprentice to an up-and-coming designer at chic B. Altman’s department store on Fifth Avenue. Engaged to her childhood sweetheart, the steadfast Dante DeMartino, Lucia is torn when she meets a handsome stranger who promises a life of uptown luxury that career girls like her only read about in the society pages. Forced to choose between duty to her family and her own dreams, Lucia finds herself in the midst of a sizzling scandal in which secrets are revealed, her beloved career is jeopardized, and the Sartoris’ honor is tested.
She is Too Fond of Books’ review: This is the third Adriana Trigiani novel that I’ve read, and I have to say that I loved it as much as I did Very Valentine (published in 2009). Although Lucia, Lucia was written several years earlier, it is just as vibrant, developed and polished as her more recent works. But, those of you who’ve read her Big Stone Gap trilogy were expecting that, right?!
It is set in Greenwich Village (as is Very Valentine, and much of Brava Valentine; a third Valentine book will complete that trilogy), but a Greenwich Village of the 1950s, when 5-story brownstones typically housed only one family (or one extended family, as sons married and brought their wives to live in the family home), all the neighbors knew your name and your business, and doors were kept unlocked, even at night. It’s hard to believe that Trigiani was raised in Virginia, and not in Greenwich Village, so detailed are the vignettes of life in this section of Manhattan, whether we’re reading about 1950 or five decades later. She nails the sights, sounds, and ambiance of this neighborhood.
The family dynamic is also realistic – a large Italian family (four brothers, and Lucia, the youngest of the Sartori children and only daughter) who look out for one another and work in tandem to make things happen, whether it’s running a family business, grilling a potential suitor, or helping out in a crisis. Narrating in the first person, 25-year-old Lucia explains:
When you come from a big family, it’s almost as if you’re one person, each brother or sister an aspect of you, like an octopus with tentacles that move in different directions but are always part of the whole. Roberto is the oldest, so he’s the leader; Angelo, second, is the peacemaker; Orlando is the middle child, so he is the dreamer; Exodus is the wild card, the free spirit, unpredictable. And then there’s me: I’m the baby, I will always be the baby, no matter how much white is in my hair.
Lucia is as independent as possible; after taking classes at Katie Gibbs she was hired in the custom department of B. Altman’s. She is an excellent seamstress, has an eye for color and design, and hopes that her future will allow her to both marry and continue in her craft, rather than abandon it to serve a husband, as she has witnessed many of her friends do.
I really enjoyed reading Lucia’s story, and seeing the development in her relationships with family, friends, and her “romantic interest.” There were so many contrasts, so many competing factors – family and tradition versus breaking out on one’s own is only the tip of the iceberg. Trigiani looks at uptown compared to the Village neighborhood, expectations of people from various religious backgrounds, the significance and implications of “custom sewn” and “ready to wear” clothing, and even the differences in the ways Northern and Southern Italians celebrate the Christmas holidays.
The details were so vivid, that I felt part of many scenes – I could picture exactly a custom dress Lucia was sewing, the gloves women wore (“as the day gets longer, so do the gloves” was a favorite axiom of her boss, Delmarr, that phrase will stick with me), and the artfully arranged produce in the family Groceria. Emotions run strong (both highs and lows), and I greedily turned the pages as I went along for the ride.
This book was stongly recommended by Kathy at BermudaOnion, and I’m so glad I took her suggestion; if you enjoyed the strong protagonist, the behind-the-scenes look at hand-crafted shoes, and feeling like you were IN Greenwich Village while reading Very Valentine, you’ll enjoy Lucia, Lucia. (I just wasn’t prepared for the crying … sit down with some tissues when you read this!)
As a nice bonus in Lucia, Lucia, three recipes are incorporated into the storyline. I haven’t tried any of them yet (the sesame seed cookies caught the attention of my sweet tooth!), but will let you know when I do.
FTC disclosure: I borrowed Lucia, Lucia from our local library – my tax dollars at work!