A thoroughly enjoyable book, in my opinion as good as Adriana Trigiani's previous best-seller "Lucia, Lucia". I felt quickly drawn into the strong relationships of the Castelluca family, guided by the voice of the main character, Nella Castelluca. I love Adriana Trigiani's style of writing which flows so beautifully and is a delight to read. I had a real sense of young Nella's determination and wishes for her future, who, from the age of 14, has a clear focus on securing herself an education against all the odds facing her in the Pennsylvania of 1920's America. Nella lives with her parents and four sisters on a farm in Delabole, an isolated community 3 miles from the nearest town Roseto. She is drawn to the relatively cosmopolitan atmosphere of the town, enticing her away from the suffocation of her family's rural way of life.
Nella comments early, that her hunger for books lead her to a repeat reading of Jayne Eyre. I wondered how much she might have identified herself with Bronte's character. The part in the book where Nella agrees to be her elder sister Assunta's skivvy in "payment" for accompanying her on the 3 mile walk to school, shows her steely resolve and determination. The impression is, that Nella would indeed have endured much more to achieve what she wanted.
We experience Nella's first romantic involvement, her first "crush", with Renato, who is 7 years older than her. The episode where she finds herself unavoidably alone with Renato, and her "first ever kiss", is well written by Adriana Trigiani, bringing out not just the emotional maturity of Nella, but also her vulnerabilities and strengths. To cope in her stoic way with future personal and family crises, Nella will need to draw on these personal attributes. Nella is no wilting violet, and can hold her own with anyone, which is demonstrated in how she deals with the trials and tribulations that she has to confront throughout the book. As she states to a neighbour, Isador, in a confrontational episode, "If I have something to say, I say it" - what you see is what you get with this young lady.
The book is divided into 2 sections, firstly 1924-1927, and then picking up again when Nella is coming up for her 21st birthday, (the period 1931-1971). There are certainly some surprises in this section, one particularly which the reader is unlikely to foresee, but the shock of it would come over well on the big screen! - (tease over).
Although the years roll past rather quickly during the second section, particularly with a rather fleeting reference to the years of WW2, the structure of the text holds well, continuing to add depth to the main theme of Nella's life. Suffice it to say, that as a rather impoverished on-looker at the carnival in Roseto, when Renato steals that first kiss, Nella and her extended family play a much more accomplished and fulfilling role in the life of the town. Tragedies do occur, and a visit abroad is a painful one for Nella, as she is forced to re-evaluate her life, and how her dreams have got subsumed over the passing years to the practicalities of work and day-to-day existence - "....the past hangs over us like a low ceiling in a dark room". During this sojourn, Trigiani does over-do the use of coincidence, but I will allow her a concession for this in terms of resolving a major theme of the book, (but no hints as to what!). Suffice it to say, "What goes round comes round" for Nella. The author manages to bring all the strands of the book together at the end, and there is a real sense of a beginning and ending with this family saga.
Oh! And I dare anyone not to have at least a lump in their throat at the ending!!!