Arturo Bandini is doomed. He’s doomed for so many reasons that it would be painful to list them all. Suffice to say he’s living in extreme poverty, his father is a brute, the love of his life looks down on him from a great height and he’s stricken by the religious fervour of his mother.
Wait Until Spring Bandini (US)offers a series of glimpses into the Bandini household. There’s not a great deal of fun to be had. Mrs Bandini is constantly begging the local storekeeper to sell her essentials on the slate. The cold is intense. Head of house, Svevo, is about to disappear. Winter is a hell to survive, what with Christmas being the property of the rich and the hard weather bringing to a close all sports. What else is there for a child to do but dream and get into trouble? And Arturo does plenty of both.
It’s a tough read in many ways. The downturns in fortune are endless and each carries more weight than the one that went before. No sooner is Arturo finding a glimmer of hope to cling to than the world cuts him down to his knees. The grinding down of the family is relentless. Resistance seems futile. The book’s as dark as the December nights it describes.
If that’s all correct, then what on earth would anyone want to read the damned book for?
Among all of the terrible happenings are moments of beauty. There are passages of sublime description. The internal workings cut deep and are vivid in their bleakness. There are crazy laugh-out-loud moments and descriptions of life that expose the motivations of the central characters in a way that is brutal and yet somehow tender.
The vignettes offered are each gripping in their own way. Mealtimes. The stealing of money to visit the cinema. The classroom. The storekeeper’s miserly spirit. The mother’s intense faith and inevitable depression. The romantic Christmas gift. The Christmas banquet. The new shoes. The brotherly scraps. The rich lover. The examinations of that it is to be an Italian in America.
These stories cling together to form a book that’s well worth a read. It’s almost a collection of short fiction, each tale carrying its own driving force which, when combined, creates an overall narrative that is difficult to resist.
I can’t say this was unputdownable. I put my copy away many times. The intensity could become too much and a rest and a little reflection allowed me to prepare for the next challenging instalment.
I enjoyed the world I inhabited when I was there and found lots of the passages to be delicious. That said, I’m going to lock the book away in a strong box to make sure its ghosts can’t seep out into my world and contaminate the things I hold dear.