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Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers Hardcover – November 9, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It would seem, after reading Trigiani’s Don’t Sing at the Table, that most, if not all, of the well-loved author’s best qualities came directly from observing and knowing her grandmothers. Both hardworking, Italian, and coated head-to-toe in their heritage, vivacious Viola Trigiani and tireless Lucy Bonicelli instilled in their children and, clearly, granddaughter Trigiani many simple, profound, and universal values. These addages Trigiani relays and expounds on in floridly, curlicue thoughts: own your own business; plan on the rainy day; good manners are not negotiable; and, of course, don’t sing at the table (readers will pick up the book just to make sense of that one!). Soothingly and with clarity, the author speaks of eventually losing her grandmothers with the same gratitude as she describes the precious time she spent with them. Readers will find her strength and optimism helpful, and her legions of loyal fans will enjoy learning more about the women who influenced, inspired, and, according to Trigiani, made possible some of her best-selling fiction. --Annie Bostrom
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As she muses about both of her grandmothers, she provides backstory which brings some of the characters in her books to life more fully. Both Lucia and Viola have been part of her, as large as life itself.
Trigiani has a beautiful gift for making even the simplest lesson seem like a rare gem of wisdom as she introduces her readers to the women who shaped so much of what she herself has become--so much of what makes her the incredible writer that she is today.
From these influential women in Trigiani's life, lessons about life, love, marriage, work ethics, money, business sense, and a myriad other topics were imparted...not just in words but through their examples on a daily basis. Trigiani's grandmothers lived and breathed these principles each and every day, and some lessons were obvious to her even as a child, while others, she recalls, are only more recently apparent.
Throughout the entire book I felt as though I was sitting at a table sharing a cup of coffee and friendly conversation with the author. But the most poignant part of her book is the Afterward. A few thoughts:
"I learned how to be a woman from my grandmothers. They taught me their simple definition of feminism: make your own living."
"Clean up your debts as you go; let the obligations to pay off the debt fuel your ambition."
"Leave your children your values, not your stuff."
"Remember who you come from; you owe them because they gave you the ticket to this adventure. Honor the debt."
"Words evaporate in thin air like smoke but actions galvanize the spirit and reinforce good intentions."
Perhaps one of Trigiani's most profound statements is the fact that for many women, the approach to living most likely came from "the sages in your life." She is quick to point out that sages need not be blood relatives, even though hers were her grandmothers, Lucia and Viola.
I savored every word of this book and was sad to see it end. The peaceful nature of its message was a healing balm at the end of a busy day at work. This book is a treasure for all to enjoy!
by Lee Ambrose
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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