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Tony's Wife

Review

Tony's Wife

When a skilled author like Adriana Trigiani offers you a first glimpse of Chi Chi Donatelli, her headstrong, bold and fearless protagonist, you know it is a precursor of events to come.

Chi Chi, a fiercely proud, traditional Italian American girl in her 20s who lives by the ocean, sees a boy drowning and jumps in to save him. There is no hesitation. She takes charge, like a boss. She is a brave leader who doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s awesome. And she goes on to save him over and over again in this book. It certainly wasn’t her ambition, but it becomes her mission.

The man she ends up saving throughout his life is the talented singer Saverio Armandonada, who she loves and marries. Their chemistry is more than sexual, as they make record-breaking music together. Although he can sing, he’s weak and susceptible to suggestions, so he cheats on Chi Chi and allows the powers-that-be to change him into Tony Arma. By doing so, he walks away from his Italian American heritage, of which he is so proud.

"[Trigiani] expertly draws from her multilayered experience with ease, making the story both charming and authentic.... If you like Chi Chi, you will adore this unforgettable book."

Chi Chi and Saverio meet one summer in Sea Isle, New Jersey. She is a talented and ambitious singer-songwriter working in a blouse factory, waiting to be discovered, while he is a rising star. Chi Chi is diligently working toward that goal. The Donatelli sisters are already a popular local trio in the big band era of the 1930s and ’40s.

Both Chi Chi and Saverio want to make it in the music business. Chi Chi has deep roots in her family and her town, while Saverio has been thrown out of his father’s house in Detroit. He was not happy with the job at the Ford factory that his father got for him. He wanted to sing, but his dad did not approve. Therefore, it’s only natural that he envies Chi Chi’s stability and her home by the ocean. He wants to be happy like her and eventually to be with her.

Chi Chi isn’t interested in love and marriage, yet sees an opportunity to enhance her career. Unfortunately, she can’t cut a record with her sisters. They have factory jobs and are waiting for their husbands to find them. They are content, though not averse to a little fun and games.

It is in this spirit that the Donatelli sisters write and record an original song, “Mama’s Rolling Pin,” a silly, jokey tune about a mother who uses her prized kitchen possession to make points. Chi Chi and Saverio do a stage performance of it and engage in some banter. Things take off from there, both personally and professionally.

Soon they are the most talked-about duo and travel all over the world --- to Hollywood, New York City, Las Vegas, even Italy. They spend time in studios and appear on programs like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” However, this public life takes its toll on the working-class kids who attain success. They can’t keep their marriage together while satisfying the audience’s demand for music. Someone or something has to give.

And now the plotline of the family saga becomes obvious as Saverio rises and Chi Chi fades into the background. He gets the fame, the stardom and the women, while she stays home with their three kids, writes the hit songs and manages the money. She is the anchor, the moral compass, the foundation of the family. She shrewdly invests in it, puts Saverio on a budget and builds a future for them. But her own ambition of being a singer goes by the wayside.

Chi Chi rules her family as they grow and transform through seven decades, living through war, marriage, divorce, tragedy, reconciliation, death, friendship, understanding and acceptance. This is a love story of passion, forgiveness and redemption. People change, situations evolve and Chi Chi rolls with the punches.

TONY’S WIFE is deeply entrenched in Trigiani’s own world of Italian American family, culture, tradition and food. She expertly draws from her multilayered experience with ease, making the story both charming and authentic. Although it is a long, slow read that requires you to get used to the languid pace, the most dominant (and my favorite) aspect of the novel is Chi Chi. She’s strong and resilient, a powerhouse and an unbeatable force of nature. If you like Chi Chi, you will adore this unforgettable book.

Reviewed by Sonia Chopra on November 21, 2018

Tony's Wife
by Adriana Trigiani

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062319256
  • ISBN-13: 9780062319258