Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Don't Sing At the Table - Adriana Trigiani

Full Disclosure: I received an ARC copy of this book from Harper Collins

Fans of novelist Trigiani will be delighted with this guided tour through the author's family history via her grandmothers, Lucia and Viola. She lovingly details the women's lives and recounts the lessons she's learned while offering a fascinating look at U.S. history from the perspective of her Italian-American forebears. Both Lucia and Viola worked hard from an early age, cooking and cleaning among any number of chores, and parlayed their work ethic and expertise into strong careers. Viola started out as a machine operator and, later, co-owned a mill with her husband, while Lucia worked in a factory and then became a seamstress and storefront couturier. Her grandmothers also took pride in passing along wisdom to others; throughout her life, Trigiani benefited from their guidance regarding everything from marriage to money, creativity to religion. She credits them with telling good stories: "I mimicked their work ethic imagining myself in a factory, layering words like tasks until the work was done. I took away more than life lessons from their stories; I made a career out of it." Here, Trigiani combines family and American history, reflections on lives well-lived, and sound advice to excellent effect, as a legacy to her daughter and a remembrance of two inimitable women - Publishers' Weekly
I heard Adriana speak at two library conferences and enjoyed her stories immensely, but I hadn't read any of her books.  Curious to learn more about her and her family, I decided to read this book first.

At first I had a hard time getting into the book and relating to her stories, but as I got further into the book I found a few connections. It turns out her one grandmother grew up & lived 20 minutes north of where I grew up.  Both my grandmothers were at one time in their lives seamstresses just like her grandmothers. Her grandmothers were very independent (in their own way) and strong women.  I can see how Adriana looked up to them and emulates them in her own life.

The first three chapters were written in a different style than the rest of the book.  So much so that I stopped halfway through and went back to the first couple of chapters and made sure I wasn't dreaming it.  I liked the little vignettes around a piece of advice from one of the grandmothers better than just straight prose.  I can see how in order to fill in the reader on her grandmothers' upbringing straight prose worked the best.  Adriana shared how different philosophies she learned from her grandmothers' applied to her own life.  At times I felt the "applications" were forced and didn't flow with the rest of the chapter.  I appreciated the family photos throughout the chapters as well.

The initial story in the afterword was very touching, but I felt the rest of the afterword again didn't "fit" into the tone of the rest of the book. Maybe I had different expectations for this book.  Adriana is a great storyteller, which I knew from the in-person talks I've seen in the past, but I felt the book didn't flow as best as it could have.  I would recommend this book to readers that have looked up to their grandmothers and emulated them in their own life. 

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