Time and again we come across books that just call to you for some unknown reason, and no I am not talking about those books that are on your “to buy” or “to read” list, its those other books that barely make it to most TBR’s, books that we just pick without any intentions of buying them. This was one such book. I had no idea about this Author, and a little search on him shows me that he is known to be one of the first writers to portray the tough times faced by many writers in L.A. His work and style has influenced authors like Charles Bukowski and influential beat writer Jack Kerouac. He was proclaimed by Time Out magazine as one of Americas “criminally neglected writers.”I just bought it because the story-line appealed to me, and the cover ( yes, its hard to not judge a book by its cover!)
Its got a simple cream background with stark pink& bare branches of a tree- probably signifying the dry cold December, or maybe their lives, that are devoid of the bare essentials.
It is simple, and the font of the title and the graphics are arranged in a pleasant manner with a combination of a few colors and fonts. It would be wrong to call it interesting, just pleasant should do.
The story revolves around the Bandini family. They are a family comprising of three boys, their fiercely religious mother - Maria, and Svevo Bandini. These immigrant Italians live in squalid conditions in Colorado, and apart from them there a rich woman who commissions work to Bandini and becomes a significant player in the story. It mostly revolves around the oldest son Arthur and it is the first book in The Saga of Arthur Bandini.
John Fante captures the life, struggles and and aspirations of these Italian immigrants during the festivities of Christmas and in life as such. While the world is immersed in celebrations, this family finds it hard to make ends meet. It is a hard hitting encapsulation of how difficult life can be, how humiliating and depressing it can be to be poor, especially when the whole world is lost in celebrations. It is realistic, bitter and so honest, its a little unsettling.
The story takes us on a journey of Svevo, who works hard to keep his family going, and yet not hard enough to give them even a barely decent life. The mother of three boys who holds on to her faith, and fate to see a better life and the three boys – the oldest being Arthur. It shows life from his perspective – the perspective of a teenage boy, the perspective of a poor boy and a boy with aspirations that might seem strange to most of us. He is in love with a girl who doesn’t want him,his take on religion and sins.He like every other child sees his father as a hero and even though he does things that might be disturbing to any child – he seeks to be like his father.
Written from the Author’s perspective, the writing is unusual. There is something about the way its written that gets to the reader. It could come off a little whiny, a little pessimistic but as you read on, you realize its neither-its just the reality of life which most of us are either not aware of, or choose not to see. Its sarcastic and bitter and just so unsettling. It doesn’t make you feel good about your privileges, but gives you a feeling of guilt for enjoying them while someone somewhere is bitter about you having them.
The writing is unlike anything that you usually come across-its a real winner. It is sad that the author has not been as appreciated as he deserves to be. He doesn’t sugar coat poverty, he doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture but gives a unbiased hard hitting take on their lives. While the characters that are important are clearly defined, while some other, the ones who are mere backgrounds are a blurry backdrop to these strong voices.
Initially you might find it a little whiny, till you get attuned to the writing style. It is not one of those books that make you hopeful or paint a rosy picture of life, but quite the contrary- and that might not sit well with some readers.
It is a interesting read, and has you turning the pages real quick. It is intriguing, and shows a side of life that not many of us are aware of. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, which left a strange after taste.
Who do I recommend it to?
If you are the one for books that give you a peek at life with all its flaws, this one’s for you. It shows a harsh and bitter approach to life, religion, love etc which a lot of us may not appreciate –but it’s true just the same.
That was the odd thing, because Maria Bandini was a woman who looked upon all the living and the dead as souls.Maria knew what a soul was. A soul was an immortal thing she knew about.A soul was an immortal thing. Well, whatever it was, a soul was immortal.
He was in a black mood, his conscience shouting questions about the murdered hen.Had he committed a mortal sin, or was the killing of the hen only a venial sin? Lying on the floor in the living room, the heat of the pot –bellied stove scorching one side of his body, he reflected darkly upon the three elements which, according to the catechism, constituted a mortal sin, first, grievous matter; second, sufficient reflection; third, full consent of the will.