The Good Left Undone

Written by Adriana Trigiani
Review by G. J. Berger

Matelda Roffo (maiden name Cabrelli) is an 81-year-old matriarch, following generations of Cabrelli gem cutters and goldsmiths in the coastal town of Viareggio, Italy. She suffers from sudden blackouts and other ailments. Matelda, fearing her end is near, strives to remember the people and events of her life and some from before her birth.

That journey takes us from the 1920s to the present day, from Indian ruby mines to charity hospitals in France and Scotland, from misogynistic priests and killer Blackshirts and Nazis to shallow youngsters of today. The main characters range from Matelda’s genius mother and two loving fathers, to a hip granddaughter about to marry the wrong man, to a shoe-shine immigrant boy who becomes a life-giving farmer in Italy. At the end, Matelda leaves each adult family member a special piece of jewelry with a note explaining the gift’s place in the family history.

The stories folded into this novel are both epic and intimate. True-to-life dialogue puts us into the conversations. The characters are so well drawn they seem to flit up from the pages and are easy to visualize. Some segments move fast, while others allow readers to savor food, clothes, towns, the sky and sea. Although the novel moves back and forth in time and locations, Trigiani ties off all significant loose ends and anchors readers to the present in Viareggio. Along the way, we celebrate love and suffer the cruelties of war and hate. Like Matelda, we mourn and remember the dead, and prepare for our own last day while ever striving to “leave no good undone.” This work is storytelling at its finest.