I meet Adriana Trigiani in New York City’s Meatpacking District to talk about her new novel, The Good Left Undone, publishing in April with Dutton. It’s her 18th, but she doesn’t keep count. I do, unable to resist, the list being so impressively long.
We always meet at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District because Trigiani is passionate about food (she’s written a cookbook with her sisters) and just about everything else: friendship, family, storytelling, writing. There is no one who encapsulates enthusiasm quite like Adriana Trigiani.
The Good Left Undone follows a family of jewelers, the Cabrellis, in Viareggio, a seaside city in Tuscany. The story centers on generations of the women: in the present, matriarch Matelda contemplates her life; the legacy of her mother, Domenica, goes back to Scotland during WWII; and in the future, her granddaughter Anina is about to marry. Events shift between the two countries and the time periods, the story multilayered, the threads, Trigiani tells me, processed over a long time, anchored by a piece of history that Trigiani stumbled upon in spring 2018.
While shooting the 2020 film Then Came You in Scotland, Trigiani came upon a wedding in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow. “I always crash weddings,” she says. “They’re good luck.” She sat in the back of the church and cried at the music; afterward, outside, the priest asked who she was. She said she was a tourist and introduced herself.
“Trigiani,” he said. “Italian?”
“Go and see the garden,” he told her.
Next to the cathedral, she found the walled Italian Cloister Garden, designed to memorialize the Italian Scots who died on the troopship the Arandora Star on July 2, 1940. Having been rounded up by Churchill earlier that year and classified as “enemy aliens” after Mussolini declared war, boys and men of Italian heritage up to the age of 80 were deported. On its way to Canada, the ship was sunk by a German U-boat and 800 people died.
Trigiani had “an emotional reaction” in the garden and began researching this tragedy.
“I had a notion in 2006 to write the story of a matriarch who has regrets and is banished from her village, but I wasn’t sure where it would go,” she says. “Then in 2015, on an extended tour of Italy—visiting churches, cathedrals, the Vatican—I became interested in the accoutrements of the celebration of the mass.” Trigiani began her research centered on “jewelry, the Vatican, longevity and timelessness,” and “how people make a living from the labor of their hands.” She discovered how professions evolved: miners became stonecutters became jewelers who created fine jewelry for the Vatican. Trigiani took a jewelry-making class at Christie’s; she studied the GNP of Italy from 1850 on. “Before WWII, the Vatican was the largest employer in Italy,” she says. “The jewelers who created the artifacts for the church worked on commission; they were guns for hire.”
Trigiani digs deep for her books: “Research can be a cross,” she says, “but it has to be real.” The “emotional guts of the story” have to be anchored in reality.
Alone in Lombardy in winter 2017, in a chalet with a beautiful view of her grandmother’s village, Trigiani had “a total sense of peace and belonging. And I saw the outline of Italy etched into the ice,” she tells me. “It was a sign to start the novel in earnest. I had begun the family side, and when I went to Scotland that next year, everything fell into place. I knew this was an opportunity to tell a different story of the immigrant. I wanted to know how someone lives and participates in your community, and yet is still not accepted. You assume your life counts for something, but the reality doesn’t line up. This is,” she says, a “hit-by-the bus book.”
Suzanne Gluck, at William Morris Endeavor, has known Trigiani “since we were in our 20s” and has been her agent since her first book, Big Stone Gap (Random House, 2000). “Adriana was a playwright who became a wildly successful TV writer,” Gluck says. “We went out to lunch as friends, and she brought a screenplay. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. She told me it was the story of where she grew up. I read it and said, ‘This is a novel!’ ” And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
About this new book, Gluck says, “It shows tremendous growth in terms of narrative construction and sweep. I sent it out with great intentionality, looking for a top publishing strategy”.
The Good Left Undone was submitted as a proposal in early October 2019, went to auction, and before the end of the month sold to Maya Ziv, executive editor at Dutton, in a two-book deal for North American rights.
This is Trigiani’s first book with Dutton, but it’s also a homecoming. “Adriana always had a good relationship with Penguin Random House,” Gluck says. “Ivan [Held, president of Putnam, Dutton, and Berkley] has been in touch over a decade, asking, ‘When can I have Adri?’ And Maya worked with Adriana at HarperCollins on All the Stars in the Heavens (2015). The idea of coming back with Maya and Ivan was a reunion and a fresh start. It was, she adds, “bashert.”
Ziv, who came to Dutton in 2015, recalls working with Trigiani as “fantastic” and adds, “It was so exciting to work with her again. When Adriana came home to Random the announcement went live, and I got great notes from across the company. This was a case where everyone wanted Adriana.” Ziv calls The Good Left Undone Trigiani’s “most passionate storytelling yet, with generations of women, history, phases of aging. There’s something in this book for everyone. I love the way the book weaves past and present,” Ziv says, “and the great family dialogue. Only Adri could write such dialogue.”
I had to go back to Trigiani for details after our lunch. There were so many wonderful stories and, on my part, too much wine.
Ultimately, she says, “Everything I write is about family—every word. Over time, this mission grows deeper, and I find the wisdom for living in the past. The only way to celebrate these roots is to feed them, to share them in storytelling.”
And no one does it quite like Adriana Trigiani.
This piece has been updated for clarity.