Like a hug from your favorite aunt, this moving and wise WWII epic will remind you what life’s all about—famiglia.
Good to know
Matelda, the Cabrelli family’s matriarch, has always been brusque and opinionated. Now, as she faces the end of her life, she is determined to share a long-held secret with her family about her own mother’s great love story: with her childhood friend, Silvio, and with dashing Scottish sea captain John Lawrie McVicars, the father Matelda never knew…
In the halcyon past, Domenica Cabrelli thrives in the coastal town of Viareggio until her beloved home becomes unsafe when Italy teeters on the brink of World War II. Her journey takes her from the rocky shores of Marseille to the mystical beauty of Scotland to the dangers of wartime Liverpool—where Italian Scots are imprisoned without cause—as Domenica experiences love, loss, and grief while she longs for home. A hundred years later, her daughter, Matelda, and her granddaughter, Anina, face the same big questions about life and their family’s legacy, while Matelda contemplates what is worth fighting for. But Matelda is running out of time, and the two timelines intersect and weave together in unexpected and heartbreaking ways that lead the family to shocking revelations and, ultimately, redemption.
The Good Left Undone
LONG, LONG AGO
The mountain was a tabernacle with one door. Behind that door, beneath cool black caverns chiseled deep into the earth, lay the richest veins of corundum, pyrite, and rubies in all of southern Asia.
Outside the mouth of the mine, the sun blistered the red ground stamped with footprints of all sizes. The scents of cloves and clay hung in a haze so thick, it was impossible to see the road. Gem traders were gathering nearby in the village of Karur to await the haul when they turned toward the mountain. They heard the braying of the elephant, a mournful sound filled with longing, like the low throttle of a trumpet in the dark. When the beast’s massive head appeared in the entrance of the mine, her wailing grew louder and echoed through the hills.
The elephant’s eyes were clouded with a white film from the cataracts of old age. Burgundy streaks of dried blood where she had been beaten with chains marked her ample coat. Her front and back legs were harnessed with thick hemp ropes secured with iron clamps that dug into her soft gray skin. She pulled a massive flatbed piled high with rock, speckled with raw rubies.
The mahout was slight of build, his skin the color of cinnamon. He draped himself over the elephant’s back as the iron bit attached to the lead chains swelled in the animal’s mouth. The elephant shook her head to loosen the bit. Her master tightened his grip.
The elephant stopped. She was neither inside the mine nor outside of it.
“Jao!” the mahout shouted as the prop timbers across the entrance entrapped him. The elephant ignored his command. The mahout whipped her with the slack of the chain as he lay on top of her. “Jao!”
The animal stood firm.
For the first time in her long life, the elephant did not obey the mahout’s command. She did not buckle under the lash of the chain; instead, she lifted her head and raised her trunk to find the way forward.
The elephant remembered the field of sweetgrass on the banks of the Amaravati River. The memory of it gave the beast the strength to pull the flatbed out of the mine and into the light.
Why I love it
Author, The Book of Lost Friends
Growing up, I was blind to my grandmother’s history, though not to her opinions. Those, she shared quite readily. She wasn’t soft. She wasn’t a coddler. But she was a great storyteller, a spinner of yarns that held us rapt—tales of my grandfather’s ancestors arriving on sailing ships, of homesteading, of horse teams tilling the land. The one story she never offered was her own, her family’s. Not until years later would the truth spill from her during an unexpected visit. Perhaps she realized, in her twilight years, that only by knowing those who came before us, can we really know ourselves.
I’m certain she was reading over my shoulder when I fell in love with The Good Left Undone—a story that belongs to Matelda, a keeper of family secrets. The revelation of them holds the power to strengthen a daughter, a granddaughter, to transport them back to the turbulence of a world at war, into the hidden life of Dominica, whose choices and fates have shaped the younger generations without their knowing.
The beauty of any book by Adriana Trigiani is her ability to interweave life and fiction. This book is immersive, but it will also have you pausing to consider your own ancestors… or to seek them out. It’s a testimony to the power of family and history, to the value of understanding where we came from. This epic tale is at once real and hopeful, filled with adventure, and yes… stories. Don’t miss your chance to take this unforgettable journey with the Cabrelli women!
Member ratings (12,842)
Santa Fe , NM
Such a good book! I felt like I was on the journey with this family. I loved reading about their traditions and food also. I’m nearing the end of the book and I don’t want it to end. I loved this book
Cypress , TX
Sometimes I am tempted to skip books that are set in WWII because I have read so many of them, but I am always glad when I do read them. You really can’t ever know enough about people’s experiences.
“I want you to realize that this whole thing is just a grand adventure. A fine show. The trick is to play in it at the same time… the more things that happen to you, the richer you are.” Timeless.
Poignant. Beautifully written with beautiful characters and scenery. I LOVED this multigenerational novel that I didn’t want to end. Although sad at times, it was still so inspiring from page to page.
I don’t often find WW2 books where the main protagonists are Italian. I really enjoyed the stories of the Cabrelli women throughout the years, with the main focus being during the war and the present.