Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review - Tony's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Book Synopsis
Love, ambition, and the consequences of both lie at the heart of this spellbinding epic of two working-class kids who become a successful singing act during the big band era of the 1940s.
Chi Chi Donatelli and Saverio Armandonada meet one summer on the Jersey shore before World War II. Chi Chi is a talented and ambitious singer-songwriter working in a local blouse factory looking for her big break, while Saverio, a singer already on the rise, is fronting a touring band and has the good looks and smooth vocals that make success seem assured. It isn’t long before Saverio becomes Tony Arma and  he and Chi Chi form a duo; together they navigate the glamorous worlds of nightclubs, radio, and television. Soon they’re married and all goes well until it becomes clear that they must make a choice: Which of them will put ambition aside to build a family and which will pursue a career? What compromises will they make to achieve their dreams? And on the road to fame and fortune, how will they cope with the impact these compromises have on their marriage, family, and themselves?
From the Jersey shore to Hollywood, New York City to Las Vegas, the hills of northern Italy and the exuberant hayride of the big band circuit in between: Tony’s Wife tells the story of the twentieth century in song, as Tony & Chi Chi make studio recordings and promote them with appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. As they juggle the demands of their public lives, secrets are revealed, promises are broken, and loyalty is tested as the Armas attempt to keep the music playing and their family together.
Tony’s Wife is a richly layered novel that explores how a traditional Italian-American family grapples with the seismic shifts they face in a rapidly changing world. Replete with a pageant of vivid, complex characters, this deeply human saga of love and sacrifice showcases Adriana Trigiani’s gifts as a captivating storyteller and reveals her understanding that there are many different kinds of families: that over time love can evolve in ways that nobody can predict, especially when the hearts involved are open to forgiveness, the sweet reprise of redemption.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Review
Tony's Wife tells the story of Chi Chi Donatelli and Saverio Armandonada (Tony Arma).  They are both young aspiring singers when they meet and their careers wind around together and separately a bit before they come together.  This historical novel begins in the 1930's and spans over 50 years.

I absolutely loved this novel.  It is a big read (almost 500 pages) but I just could not put it down.  I love historical fiction and found the time span of this novel particularly interesting.  The 1940's are a special interest of mine and the depiction of the wartime years in this novel was absolute perfection.  (I loved the scene with Chi Chi and Tony -- along with Linda Darnell and Margaret Whiting! -- at the Hollywood Canteen).

I also love music and loved the many musical details of this story, starting with the chapter titles all based on musical terms - i.e. Volante (Flying Fast), Cantabile (In a sugary style).  The Big Band years were fascinating, and so was the work that Chi Chi put in to be taken seriously as a songwriter.  I found the early years of her career, recording at times in her father's garage recording studio, especially interesting.  There was so much fun and creativity in the descriptions of their music, like the songs that Chi Chi wrote, "Mama's Rolling Pin" and Jelly Bean Beach" (complete with mason jars of jelly beans used as maracas!).

Chi Chi and Saverio (Tony) were compelling characters.  Adriana Trigiani did a masterful job developing their characters over a period of many years.  I loved the back and forth glimpses of their lives.

Ms. Trigiani is one of my favorite authors.  Her descriptions are always so beautiful and evocative.  I always feel like I am seeing the story like a movie, not just reading it -- her descriptions are that vivid.  

One example of the beautiful descriptions in this novel:

"Severio stood on the sidewalk and surveyed the Donatellis' Cape Cod with its weathered gray shingles and freshly painted yellow trim, and wondered what it must be like to live inside. ... The matching patches of grass on either side of the walkway in the front yard were neatly mowed;  the seagrass hedges that hemmed the porch ruffled in the breeze, as wind chimes, small white glass discs that resembled communion hosts, clinked a tune.  It was a fine house for a good family" (p. 95).

I cannot recommend Tony's Wife highly enough for fans of historical fiction, and especially for anyone interested in Mid-Century America, music, and engrossing storytelling about characters you will care about.

Author Bio
Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.
Find out more about Adriana at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.