Her father’s stories about his grandmother and his mother Filomina provided the inspiration for Antonio’s Wife, Jacqueline DeJohn’s debut novel. The fictional Filomina arrives in America as a mail-order bride. However, when “Mina” DiGianni starts working for the diva Francesca Frascatti, she finds herself in a world as exciting as any of the operas in which “Cesca” has appeared.
Although ostensibly Cesca is in New York to star in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, her real purpose is to find her daughter Maria Grazia, whom she gave away twenty years before. With Cesca is Dante Romano, supposedly her fiancé, but in fact a detective hired to coordinate the search. Cesca’s greatest fear is that her dead lover’s wealthy father, Don Emilio, will find Maria before she does and whisk his granddaughter away to Italy, where he would certainly keep her away from Cesca, whom he still blames for his son’s death.
Fearing that her abusive husband Antonio will kill her and her unborn child, Mina leaves him and takes refuge with Cesca. However, new evidence now suggests that Mina may be the long-lost Maria. Hoping for a large reward from Don Emilio, Antonio kidnaps Mina and turns her over to his villainous Irish mistress for safekeeping until Don Emilio can arrange passage to Italy. With corrupt policemen and the notorious Black Hand gang on his payroll, Don Emilio seems invulnerable. However, Mina has both great courage and loyal friends determined to rescue her.
The novel ends with the evil characters punished and the good ones suitably rewarded. Some may find DeJohn’s novel too melodramatic; however, it is never dull, and her depiction of the operatic world in the early twentieth century is truly fascinating.