The Queen of the Big Time

Written by Adriana Trigiani
Review by Ellen Keith

Roseto, Pennsylvania, was named by Italian immigrants in the 1800s after the town they came from. Trigiani’s novel recreates every detail of that town down to the placement of the houses and who lives next to whom. In 1924, Nella Castelluca, third of five daughters, lives with her family on their farm outside Roseto. Unlike her older sisters, she longs for education beyond the seventh grade and wishes to be a teacher. Her parents assent, and she goes to school in Roseto, making friends and falling in love with Renato Lanzara. After the death of his father, Renato leaves Roseto and Nella, and her dream must be deferred when her father is injured and she takes work at the local blouse factory. There she meets, first resists, and then falls in love with Franco Zollerano, her opposite in temperament and attitude.

Trigiani, author of the Big Stone Gap trilogy, was born in Roseto, the subject of a medical study which concluded that its low rate of heart disease was due to its supportive social structure. With this fictional tale, she lends credence to that conclusion. A loving Italian-American community surrounds Nella and supports her as her life takes a different turn from the one she had imagined. Although sentimental, the novel is never saccharine. The real world does intrude into this microcosm of Italy with World War II, and Nella has a tartness and single-mindedness that makes her realistically imperfect. Roseto is a tempting place to visit.