Before she was an acclaimed and popular author, Adriana Trigiani was someone much more basic — much more familiar — to all of us: a granddaughter. In her memoir Don’t Sing At The Table, Trigiani recounts the inspiring and fascinating lives of her two strong-willed, larger-than-life grandmothers. Blessed with not one but two powerful female role models, Trigiani grew up listening to their stories and learning from the trials they endured. And as she grows and matures and experiences life herself, the lessons of Lucy Spada and Viola Trigiani begin to take on new meaning.
Don’t Sing At The Table reads like a love letter to the women she loves so dearly. I saw much of myself in her pages, remembering the summers I spent with Gram and Maw Maw, my maternal and paternal grandmothers. My family — warm and complex, like so many — has long been anchored by the lessons the women on both sides have taught.
It’s hard not to warm to Lucy, an Italian immigrant who lands in Minnesota with her husband. After his sudden death, she is left to care for three children in a foreign country while trying to keep her own business afloat. In another corner of the U.S. is Viola Trigiani, a warm and hard-working woman who is an equal partner in the clothing factory she runs with her husband. The lives of both women are incredibly inspirational, considering the heights to which they soared at a time when women were still taught their place was “in the home.”
And the women were at home, caring for their kids . . . but they were everywhere else, too.
The ladies’ influence on their granddaughter, Adriana, is evident and moving. While Don’t Sing At The Table opens with long and detailed accounts of Lucy and Viola’s marriages and lives before little Adriana would ever open her eyes in this world, the latter half of the book is framed around Adriana’s own opportunities and the lessons she learns by their example.
Though I was very interested in Lucy and Viola’s lives, I wish there had been a bit more of Adriana in the memoir’s opening chapters. It felt like an information dump — here is the woman we’re talking about; here’s what she looked like; here’s what her life was like. I wanted a little more emotion. Some intrigue. A bit of back story and, in time, better integration of the lessons they learned against the backdrop of Adriana’s own experiences.
But that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise warm-hearted tale. I loved the inclusion of family photos in each chapter, which really helped to bring Viola and Lucy to life, and the way that much of their advice would still hold true today. As a reader of Trigiani’s books, too, it was so fun to see the way Lucy and Viola were integrated into the author’s novels. Fans of her stories will delight in learning more about the women who inspired and helped shape Trigiani’s memorable characters and settings.
And if nothing else, it’ll inspire you to think of your own grandmothers . . . and, if you’re blessed to do so, give them a call. It’s fascinating to think of where we came from — the choices our ancestors made that landed us to sit right here, right now.
It’s a thought as large as the universe.
4 out of 5!