Adriana Trigiani's many fans won't be surprised to learn how the strength, support and inspiration she has gleaned from her beloved grandmothers inform her work. In these stories, we meet the ladies themselves: Lucy (Lucia Spada Bonicelli) and Viola (Yolanda Perin Trigiani). Lucy and Viola possessed many strengths and talents, both similar and complementary, for their granddaughter to admire and emulate. It's a pleasure to learn of their lives through these lively, descriptive and heartfelt anecdotes.
Lucy's story begins as the eldest of eight children, living in the Italian Alps. The family fell upon hard times. Their circumstances were so dire, in fact, that Lucy offered to travel with her father to the United States to find work. They planned to send money home and then eventually return to buy a house that would make the family secure. When she finally arrived here, Lucy found a job in a mill operating a sewing machine that paid $2 a week. She also met her future husband, a handsome shoemaker named Carlo Bonicelli. Theirs was not only a love match; they were a working team, with Carlo opening a shoe shop while Lucy ran her own dressmaking business. When Lucy was just 35, she was a widow. Still, she managed to raise a family and send her children to college by selling factory-made shoes and by sewing and altering garments. Although she had no blood relations nearby, she built a community of friends who were always available for her and her kids.
Yolanda Trigiani was called Viola --- except for the business she owned with her husband, "The Yolanda Manufacturing Company." She grew up on a farm and always believed in a productive but gracious home life. Even as she kept a perfect home, she ran her business in a constant quest for flawlessness. Like Lucy, Yolanda began working in a factory at a young age. As a testament to her drive, she ably made the leap from working girl to eventually owning her own factory. Viola was an ambitious, hard-working businesswoman, determined that their business would succeed. Details about the workings of the factory are quite fascinating.
Trigiani's love, respect and admiration for Lucy and Viola are obvious in her warm and descriptive writing. She tells us that Viola's urgency, passion and dedication are qualities that she draws upon for her writing. As a legacy from both grandmothers, she learned how to parent (some of those child-rearing theories, such as the admonition not to be a child's friend, are intriguingly contrary to many popular notions). She also draws on their examples of how to maintain friendships and how to be a valuable part of the community. Each grandmother, although constantly busy, managed to make time for a personal spiritual quest. This inspires their granddaughter, who describes her own feelings about religion and spirituality in an absorbing essay.
While DON'T SING AT THE TABLE is sure to appeal to Adriana Trigiani's fans, it should also attract new readers who have yet to discover the delights of a Trigiani novel. These lucky souls are likely to be struck by the generous spirit of the author, who invites us into her family so that we, too, can enrich our lives by gleaning wisdom from these remarkable women. Lucy and Viola would certainly approve.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 3, 2011