Literature Fiend

Every book changes your literary journey.

Tag: raw writing

A Visit to the Anne Frank House

Anne-Frank-DeskI’ve just returned from a excellent long weekend in Amsterdam. The place really does have something for everyone.

I – like most, I’m sure – first read Anne Frank at school. It is after all a very important historical document. I’ve also read it again in recent years and I always think the same thing. Here we have a thirteen year old girl who has an imagination and writing ability way above her years.  In her diary she writes:

“One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!” (Diary, 11 April, 1944)

It was a interesting experience, in that I was surprised at how much space was hidden behind the bookcase, where the three families took refuge. When reading the diary, I imagined a much smaller space. But, I’m sure spending two years with three other families in relative darkness (as the curtains were drawn at all times) was unbearable.

Understandably, from the beginning of the tour the place had an errie feel. As we walked around, in a single file  it was silent, apart from perhaps a few whispers.

Personally, I could almost feel Anne Frank’s imagination bouncing from room to room. In the room that Anne shared with Fritz Pfeffer, there were cuttings of film stars and photos of art plastered on the wall like any normal child may have. Sadly, in Anne’s case it was an attempt to link to the outside world, a world she must’ve felt alienated from.  Her longing to be free is evident in her diary as she writes:

“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.” (Diary, 24th December 1943)

Next on the tour came the footage from childhood friends who all spoke about their memories of Anne. Otto Frank -Anne’s father – returned to Amsterdam after the War, not knowing that his Wife and two Daughters were now dead. On one of the TV’s he recounts little Anne writing secretively into her diary and her wish to become a published author.

imgresAnne wrote many short stories and also the first few chapters towards a novel – which are complied in a book called Anne Frank’s Tales From the Secret Annexe – before the families were captured by the SS.

Yes, it was a very sobering experience, but one which I think will enable me to visualise her surroundings when I read the diary again.

It’s important that her writing will continue to be read. In her writings she captures the voice of millions of innocent children who lost their lives throughout the Holocaust.

Holocaust Literature has an important message to share, and many books have been translated into English since the liberation of Auschwitz 71 years ago. Below are a few suggestions for further reading on the subject.  

Night by Elie Wiesel

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait Until Spring Bandini by John Fante

Wait-Until-Spring-Bandini

 

 

I was so impressed by Ask the Dust, that I went straight to Amazon and ordered the “Bandini Quartet.” It has the four novels: Wait Until Spring Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, Ask the Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill.

It works out much cheaper than buying them separately, and if you want to read them all – which after reading one Fante novel, trust me you will – is well worth the investment.

In this novel we get an insight into what things were like for Arturo Bandini (or Fante, however you want to look at it) as a child. And the answer is pretty bleak; the family are poor – like most during the depression era – and constantly struggling to pay their food bill at the local shop, let alone the rent.

Arturo – in typical fashion – has his mind consumed with a girl from his school, Rosa. She however, doesn’t reciprocate his feelings:

“Rosa, his girl. She hated him, but she was his girl. Did she know that he loved her? Was that why she hated him? Could she see the mysterious things that went on inside him, and was that why she laughed at him?” (p.42)

Svevo,Arturo’s Father, is a bricklayer and hates the winter; he is constantly being “rained off” as we say in England, due to bad weather. He is ashamed that he cannot bring more money into the household; in the first few pages we see these worries as he walks into:

“…the yard of his house that was not paid for..” (p.8) and  to his “…house that was not paid for” (p.7).

On the other hand his wife is a deeply religious woman, rich, in the sense that she makes the home a home. She is described as angelic and despite the lack of money, the love in the household is strongly felt:

 “Maria had a white rosary, so white you could drop it in the snow and loose it forever” (p.7). 

The routine of the Bandini household is torn apart – partly through miscommunication and partly through the local rumors in the neighborhood, when Svevo goes to work for the rich widow Hildegarde to earn money for his family. It is his pride that obstructs his true feelings:

“Bandini sobbed – a grown man, forty-two years old, weeping because it was Christmas Eve and he was returning to his sin, because he would rather be with his children” (p.137)

Through the use of a omniscient narrator the reader can identify with every character at one stage or another; this way their love, thoughts and feelings towards each other really shine through. That said,  I much preferred the first person narrative (from Arturo) in Ask the Dust, which made me laugh out loud on many occasions.

This novel, is an excellent piece of writing; which is poetic throughout, not to mention heartbreaking at times. The more Fante I read the more I begin to understand the term “way ahead of his time” because if it wasn’t for the popularity of Bukowski we may have seen Fante’s work buried deep in dark attics and second hand bookshops.

And that my friends, would be a tragedy in my eyes.

 

Best Part

Arturo is trying to be a little more “saintly”,  but for reasons I’ll not reveal he lashes out in frustration. He is in his garden when:

“He [Arturo] found a lump of coal the size of his fist, stood back and measured his distance. The old brown hen nearest him got the blow in the neck as the whizzing lump all but tore her head loose and caromed off the chicken shed” (p.46)

This was a harsh act, but the reason I liked it so much is that a few pages later the hungry family are tucking in to a succulent roast chicken.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

Ask the Dust by John Fante

“I didn’t ask any questions. Everything I wanted to know was written in tortured phrases across the desolation of her face.”

 

d449cb3a4cd787f53929a4bf2389e815John Fante came into my life as part of my Charles Bukowski addiction.  Both of these writers appeal to me because of the rawness in their writing.

It captures truth, beauty and simplicity. A little like Steinbeck and Hemingway, but not as literary.

Fante’s fictional works were all but out of print until Bukowski created a resurgence in popularity in the late 70’s. There are four books that document the life of Fante’s semi-autobiographical character, Arturo Bandini – now know as the Bandini Quartet.

“I AM ARTURO BANDINI!”

Ask the Dust is a really funny novel. Bandini writes a short story that is published, but blatantly ignored by the people around him (even though he is always self promoting it.) It’s evident from the beginning that he isn’t as popular as he thinks. There is a nice little scene when he first meets his landlady and shows her his short story in a magazine; a few moments later she asks for his name. Bandini says:

“…And I was disappointed, for already she had forgotten the author of The Little Dog Laughed and his name printed in large type on the magazine” (Ask the Dust, p. 51).

There are funny bits like this throughout the book. When Bandini meets Camilla Lopez – a waitress – his life takes a number of twists and turns. It’s a kind of love hate relationship, that just never seems to go smoothly.

Ask the Dust, documents how Bandini, although a good writer never really gets the work – life balance he wants. There is always something missing in his life, and I think this theme speaks directly to most people in society. No matter what they have, they always want a little bit more.

That said, I love the animosity Bandini feels towards his place in the world, causing him to continually battle his own demons throughout the novel.

It is evident that Fante carefully constructed each sentence, as the words sing as you read. I even read a passage to my wife, and she simply replied that it sounded like poetry.

I’ll end with the part that was so unexpected I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The scene is in the restaurant where Camilla works; after Bandini has done something nasty to her, Fante writes:

“Then she said a strange thing; I remember it clearly. ‘I hope you die of heart failure,’ she said. ‘Right there in that chair.’ (p.35)

Pages: 194

Rating: 9/10

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