Scots-Italian story inspires best-selling author Adriana Trigiani

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Published
Image source, Tim Stephenson
Image caption,
Her time in Scotland inspired Adriana Trigiani's new novel The Good Left Undone

You could blame it on the alphabet or Adriana Trigiani's love of watching a wedding.

Either way, the best-selling author stumbled upon the inspiration for her latest novel, The Good Left Undone, in Glasgow.

She was directing the film Then Came You four years ago when she used her time off to explore the city.

It ended up changing the course of her latest work, which is published in the UK on 5 May.

"I'm an Italian American, very proud Italian American and when I went to Scotland to work in 2018 I discovered that there was, in the artistic community, a lot of Scots of Italian descent - so that piqued my interest," she said.

"The plight of the immigrant around the world, right to this morning, is the same.

"We are seeking a better life while holding onto our traditions and you know that tradition can only thrive in a state of change."

Image source, Matthew Weiner
Image caption,
Adriana Trigiani visited Scotland to film Then Came You in 2018

She stumbled across more of the story of Italian immigration during her time in Glasgow.

"When I got to Scotland I had this situation where I had a weekend free before we started filming," she explained.

"I wanted to get my hands in the dirt in Glasgow.

"I was by myself before we began filming and I made a list of places I wanted to go."

She said that because she was "no brain trust" she started with the letter A - and St Andrew's Cathedral.

Image source, Adriana Trigiani

"I went there and, thrillingly, there was a wedding," she said. "I crash weddings all the time.

"So, I'm taking pictures and I hear a voice behind me say: 'Who are you?'

"And I turned around and it was the priest."

She explained that she was a tourist and he asked her name from which he quickly worked out her Italian origins.

Ms Trigiani added: "He said: 'You need to go see that garden and he pointed to this garden gate.'

"After the crowd dispersed and I got all my pictures, I went to the garden, I went through the door."

She said she was initially struck by how modern it was, with "shards of mirrored glass", but its relevance was not immediately obvious.

Then she walked around and saw a plinth listing the names of the victims of the sinking of the Arandora Star in 1940.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A large number of Scottish Italians died in the sinking of the Arandora Star

The converted liner was being used to transport internees - and some German prisoners of war - to Canada when it was sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat off the Irish coast.

About 100 Scots-Italians were among the more than 800 victims of the attack - the majority of whom were Italians rounded up around Britain as "enemy aliens" during World War 2.

"I was alone in that garden and I read the names out loud and by the time I was done I'm glad the bagpiper wasn't there because I was sobbing," said Ms Trigiani.

"It just broke my heart because these names are my people.

"I went back to the hotel and I called my best friend who is my researcher and I said: 'I want to hire you to research the Arandora Star for me, I've never heard of this.'"

Image source, Adriana Trigiani
Image caption,
The garden at St Andrew's Cathedral remembers the victims of the Arandora Star sinking

Gradually, however, she got more information and was so moved by the story she incorporated it into The Good Left Undone.

The sprawling, multi-generational tale stretches from Tuscany to France and north into Scotland and back again.

Weaved into the plot is the sinking which claimed the lives of a large number of Scottish-Italians.

She had started a work about gem cutters for the Vatican but incorporated the tragedy which affected so many people into her tale.

'Infusion of greatness'

Ms Trigiani said the story of the Arandora Star became the "heartbeat" of her novel after three years of research.

However, in many ways she said she felt the immigrant story was the similar all around the world.

"They are coming in and infusing your lives, your world, your economy, your spirits," she said.

"It's an infusion of greatness, of new ways of doing things of new ways of eating, dining, working, creating."

She has sprinkled some of that spirit liberally throughout her latest work.

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