The theme "destiny" winds itself through ANTONIO'S WIFE, Jacqueline DeJohn's debut novel. A wonderfully rich tale, it encompasses the world of late 19th century Italy and early 20th century America, taking the reader on a journey from the vineyards of Italy to the world of the Italian immigrant of New York. Opera diva Francesca Frascatti searches for her long-lost daughter, knowing that Maria must be somewhere in America. Francesca's sole purpose in life is to find that daughter and to make amends because of the mistakes she had made long ago.
Francesca is the biggest star in the opera world. While she wows her audiences at night with her voice, by day she is busy plotting with her "lover" Dante, who is really a detective she has hired to find her Maria. They pose as lovers to the rest of the world, but behind closed doors, Dante is working night and day to help Cesca find Maria before her cruel father-in-law beats her to it. Emilio disowned his son when he chose to marry Francesca all those years ago. Cesca's lover and husband died before Emilio could reconcile with his only son, but to make up for it he pledged to find Maria and take her back to Italy. A very powerful and wealthy man, Emilio would do anything to prevent Cesca from finding Maria first.
Maria, meanwhile, has made her way to America and changed her name to Mina. She is now married to an Italian immigrant who treats her like dirt. He's abusive and cruel, and spends most of his nights with Kathleen, an Irish woman who also runs a saloon down the street. Mina and Antonio DiGianni met through what Mina thought was destiny back in Italy, but now she wishes fate had handed her a different set of cards. She thinks that maybe if she gave Antonio a son, he would love her as he did when they first met. Unfortunately, he is not home long enough each day to even make love to her. There is no baby in their future.
As fate deals another deck of cards, Mina finds herself hired by the famous opera singer to be her personal assistant. Destiny brings the two together, and it doesn't take long before Cesca suspects that Mina is not who she says she is. Mina, however, has no idea her mother is alive. She was told years ago that she had died from an illness.
The plot and the characters are bigger than life. Crooked cops, opera stars and figures persons straight from history --- Enrico Caruso and Oscar Hammerstein --- lead the reader to an exciting finish. The ending is not what the reader may have expected, as there are several plot twists that will lead the reader on a wild goose chase. However, one will not be disappointed. DeJohn created the perfect ending.
What this reviewer found touching was the fact that ANTONIO'S WIFE was inspired by the life story of DeJohn's grandmother and great grandmother. DeJohn's exploration of the meaning of destiny makes one examine whether we are tied to our fates, or if we do indeed have the power to change the course of our future. ANTONIO'S WIFE leads this reviewer to believe that destiny is just that: we are tied to our futures, and no matter what we do, our final destination in life is already pre-determined by our maker. ANTONIO'S WIFE is great entertainment infused with smart ideas, and I look forward to more novels by Jacqueline DeJohn.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton(Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 20, 2011