Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel, The Good Left Undone, is slated for publication by Penguin Random House in April 2022. The book is a wonderful read for anyone yearning to return to Italy’s vibrant life and culture.
I was delighted to receive a pre-publication review copy of the book and discovered that much of the story is set in Viareggio, the southernmost beach town in Versilia on the Italian Riviera, about 20 minutes south of Forte dei Marmi.
This sweeping historical novel tells the gripping intergenerational story of the Cabrelli family and its matriarch Matelda. It begins in present day Viareggio, a beachside Tuscan town on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, best known for its famous Carnival.
The narrative transports the reader from Italy to France, to Scotland and back, and seamlessly moves in time between the present and past. As it begins, Matelda is reaching the end of her life, commenting how old age is “a box of surprises and not the good kind” although she feels blessed to have evaded the present-day coronavirus pandemic that hobbled Bergamo in the north.
She comments that a family is “only as strong as their stories” (including their secrets) and we learn hers—as she recounts them to her granddaughter, Anina. As the Cabrelli family history unfolds, we learn how it was shaped by both world events (including the war) and interpersonal ones.
Matelda warns readers that time passes quickly as the years progress: This epic novel (over 450 pages long) so fully immerses a reader in the lives of the characters and settings, that they, too, are likely to lament that Matelda’s life and the novel ends too soon.
Traveling back in time to the 1930s
We learn that as a young woman, Matelda’s mother, Domenica, fell in love with her best friend Silvio Birtolini, a local boy labeled and taunted as the “town bastard.” That shame was hard to shake at the time and the close friendship between the two ended when Silvio moved to Parma for a better life away from the gossip. Domenica remained in Viareggio, training to become a nurse in the office of a local doctor.
When she boldly attempted to offer family planning advice to a woman who was abused by her husband, she, too, was driven out of the provincial town for her progressive opinions.
To continue to pursue her career, Domenica found work as a nurse in Marseille in 1939, and then in a convent in Glasgow, Scotland, just before the outbreak of World War II. However, she felt uprooted and terribly isolated from her family and the seaside.
In France, she fell in love with a Scottish seaman, John Lawrie McVicars, and was reminded of her mother’s admonition, “When you marry a man from your own village, you know how he salts his food.” This marriage was blessed with love, although ultimately ill-fated.
The ravages of the war, both in Italy and in Scotland, are described in the narrative. Italian Scots were branded as Britalians and discriminated against much like Jews. When Germany attacked France, Mussolini allied with the Germans against England and France, and all hell broke loose leading to mass deportations of Italians from England and Scotland.
The torpedoing of the SS Arandora Star during the war (an actual event that took place in 1940) led to the death of McVicars and Domenica became a single mother when she gave birth to Matelda after his death.
Domenica spends five years yearning to return to Viareggio. Hoping to share its beauty with her young daughter, she discovers that during the time when she was abroad, Mussolini stripped Viareggio of all its riches. “Poor Viareggio. The war had stolen her beauty for an enemy who did not value it.”
Matelda ultimately finds great happiness, which makes for a satisfying ending for the reader.
A must-read for Italophiles
I delighted in reading about Tuscan traditions and foods, and learning more about the history of Viareggio and war-torn Italy in the 40s. This masterfully-told tale is rich in detail with well-developed characters. It also conveys a strong sense of place; you can almost feel the fog coming from the sea after the summer season.
The Good Left Undone portrays the pivotal role strong women play in keeping families together, and reaffirms the Italian reverence for family above all else in life.
About Adriana Trigiani
New Yorker and Italian-American Adriana Trigiani is a New York Times bestselling author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Shoemaker’s Wife. Her books have been published in thirty-eight languages around the world. This talented and prolific author has published a novel every year since 2000.
The Good Left Undone is available for pre-order on Amazon.
IF YOU GO
Viareggio is in the province of Lucca. Its traditional Carnival, which began in 1873, is one of the most important ones in Italy. With a parade of colorful floats and masks, Typically held at the end of February, it takes place on the towns Liberty-style boardwalk and lasts for 15 days. The Carnival was stopped for the second World War and resumed in 1946.
- Read more about the history and traditions of the Carnevale di Viareggio.
- Watch the Carnevale on YouTube.
- Read more about tourism in Viareggio on the website of the regional tourism office, VisitTuscany.
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