Home > 1930, 20th Century, American Literature, Fante, John, Highly Recommended, Novella > Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante – adultery and adolescence in Colorado in the 1920s

Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante – adultery and adolescence in Colorado in the 1920s

September 20, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante (1938) French title: Bandini. Translated by Brice Matthieussent. (He’s Fante’s main French translator)

Then she left. The poor thing. His mother –the poor thing. It worked a despair in him that made his eyes fill up. Everywhere it was the same, always his mother –the poor thing, always poor and poor, always that, that word, always in him and around him, and suddenly he let go in that half darkened room and wept, sobbing the poor out of him, crying and chocking, not for that, not for her, for his mother but for Svevo Bandini, for his father, that look of his father’s, those gnarled hands of his father’s, for his father’s mason tools, for the walls his father has built, the steps, the cornices, the ashpits, the cathedrals, and they were all so very beautiful, for that feeling in him when his father sang of Italy, of an Italian sky, of a Neapolitan bay.

John Fante (1909-1983) was born in Boulder, Colorado. His parents were Italian immigrants. He’s well-known for his Saga of Arturo Bandini, Fante’s alter ego. Including Wait Until Spring, Bandini, I’ve now read three out of the four books of the saga. I loved it as much as The Road to Los Angeles and Ask the Dust.

In Wait Until Spring, Bandini, Arturo is 14. His life revolves around his parents, his siblings and school. It’s winter in Colorado in the 1920s. We see how this winter is a turning point in Arturo’s life. He’s growing up, he’s losing his illusions about marriage and sees his parents in a different light.

Arturo’s father, Svevo, is a mason and bricklayer. There aren’t a lot of construction works at this time of year and he’s currently out of work. The family barely survives. Meat is rare, the children clothes are always too small and the Bandinis have debts at the local shops.

Arturo is fourteen, still a child in some aspects but getting the vision of an adult on others. He loves his parents and sees what a strange couple they make. His mother Maria is blindly in love with her charming womanizing husband. She’s also a Catholic devout, living rosary in hand, going to church every Sunday and feeling so proud that her sons are altar boys. His father Svevo doesn’t care about religion, likes to drink and gamble with his childhood friend from Italy. It’s a bone of contention between the two:

Svevo had said, if God is everywhere, why do I have to go to Church on Sunday? Why can’t I go to the Imperial Poolhall? Isn’t God down there too? His mother always shuddered in horror at this piece of theology, but he remembered how feeble her reply to it, the same reply he had learned in his catechism, and one his mother had learned out of the same catechism years before.

This winter, Arturo will see his parents in a new light. When Maria’s mother announces one of her dreadful visits –she despises her son-in-law and never misses an opportunity to let it known –Svevo leaves the house and doesn’t come back. We see him stay with a rich mistress. Maria is so depressed that she neglects the children.

Arturo is torn between his two parents. He understands why his father would want to escape. Svevo is the sole breadwinner and bears the weight of providing for five. He doesn’t have a stable job. He never earns enough, he’s always in debt and never has a break. Seen from Svevo’s point of view, this affair sounds more like a holiday from the worries and the poverty than a true love story. He stays with her for a while, in a house where he doesn’t have to worry. As a young adolescent, Arturo is also secretly proud that his working-class father managed to seduce such a rich lady.

But Arturo also understands how heartbroken his mother is, how in love she is with Svevo and how betrayed she feels. He hates his father for it. Svevo may bear the burden of earning enough, she bears the brunt of raising the children, scraping by all the time. She’s the one who struggles to feed everyone with the little money that she has. There’s a heartbreaking scene at the butcher’s, we see how humiliating it is for her to go there without enough money and buy the cheapest meat possible.

Arturo becomes the underground middleman between the two. He threatens his brother with bodily harm if he tattles to his mother that they’ve seen their father with another woman. Arturo knows it’ll burn the bridges between his parents, and that their mother would not recover or take her husband back. And they need their breadwinner.

Arturo knows that the family needs that their parents patch things up.

Wait Until Spring, Bandini means that things will get better in the spring, when the construction works resume, when Svevo finds a job and brings money home again. They have to live through the hard Colorado winter.

Besides the drama between Maria and Svevo, we also see Arturo’s school life and his relationship with his siblings. He can’t stand his righteous brother Federico. Arturo’s temper is more like his father’s but he’s still under his mother’s influence. Religion instills a deep fear of sins and makes him sweat. He doesn’t like going to church or being an altar boy but it makes his mamma happy. He’s also desperately in love with Rosa, who is in his class and looks down on him. Fante describes his life as a poor student in a Catholic school.

All this is packed in 266 pages, in a novel full of creativity. Fante writes about hardship and poverty but keeps his sense of humor. I suspect that he hates pitying looks and that irony is a weapon against unwanted pity.

Fante was 29 when he wrote this novel. In the foreword of Wait Until Spring, Bandini, he explains that he never reread it after it was published. Maybe it was too painful. Maybe he was afraid to find it lacking. I think it’s a very fine piece of literature.

I still have to read the fourth book of Saga of Arturo Bandini, Dreams from Bunker Hill. You’ll hear more about Fante on this blog soon since our Book Club’s choice for September is West of Rome, a bundle of two novellas, My Dog Stupid and The Orgy. Looking through my shelves, I realized I’ve already read the French translation of The Orgy. I’ve also read Full of Life. Fante was a fashionable writer in France in the late 1980s when they go published in the 10/18 collection.

Fante also wrote the script of Walk on the Wild Side, the film made out of Algren’s book. Published in 1956, I hope to read Algren’s novel for the 1956 Club, after reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

PS : This was Book #19 in my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

  1. September 20, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    I like the sound of this one. Have you read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair?

    Like

    • September 20, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      No, I’ve never read anything by Upton Sinclair. I’ll look it up.

      Like

      • September 22, 2020 at 12:30 pm

        It’s brilliant.

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        • September 22, 2020 at 8:19 pm

          thanks for the recommendation.

          Like

  2. September 20, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    It seems incredible that so much is packed into such a short novel, what an achievement. I’ve not read Fante but he sounds like he has a lot to say.

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    • September 20, 2020 at 8:54 pm

      He’s an excellent writer, in my opinion. Not exactly an adept of PC but he manages to mix humor and analysis of people and situations.

      Arturo is quite a character and I guess that John Fante was one too. Arturo is very intelligent, sensitive and full of imagination. His imagination runs away from him and things get out of proportion in his head.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. September 20, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    The central library in Los Angeles is in John Fante square. 🙂

    Like

    • September 20, 2020 at 8:55 pm

      I didn’t know that! That’s great ! Is there a Bukowski road near the main post office too?

      Like

  4. September 20, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    I have this on one of my numerous to-be-read lists and I had forgotten why. Now you’ve reminded me! I also heartily recommend The Jungle. Quite a different setting from Fante’s, I think, but gives plenty of food for thought on the USA today.

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    • September 20, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      Did you also discover Fante with 10/18?

      Thanks for the Jungle. I should read it too. (Soooo many books I’d love to read! Why don’t I have independant means that allow me to stop working and only do what pleases me)

      Like

      • September 21, 2020 at 3:33 pm

        I can’t remember at all where I discovered Fante, but it was definitely in an English-language context.
        Ah yes, I’ve thought that too, about the independent means. I think the closest you’ll get to it is to work hard until retirement age, and hope you’re in good enough health for long enough afterwards to be able to read all you want after that!

        Like

        • September 22, 2020 at 8:22 pm

          It’s too risky to wait for retirement, I’ll try to take all the fun and books I can along the way. 🙂

          Like

  5. September 20, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    I’ve never read Fante, but Mr. Kaggsy loves the film of Ask the Dust!

    Like

    • September 20, 2020 at 9:01 pm

      I haven’t seen the film, I didn’t even know it existed. I looked it up and it went out in 2005, in the middle of my nothing-but-work-and-babies years.
      I’ll see if I can see it in VOD.

      The book is wonderful. I don’t know if Mr Kaggsy loves to read but it’s worth reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. September 21, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    I too think this sounds marvellous. We seem to have very little migrant literature in Australia. (Yes I’ve just reviewed Christos Tsiolkas, but.. who else?) The big wave of Greek and Italian migration was in the 1960s which means their children are getting on for 50. The more recent Chinese and Vietnamese seem to be producing more writers.

    Like

    • September 22, 2020 at 8:30 pm

      I think you’d like it and I imagine it’ll make a memorable audio book. Fante’s style is almost spoken and it must be really vivid read aloud.

      There aren’t a lot of books written by migrants. In France, the only ones I can think of are Les Ritals by Cavana (The Dagos) and books by migrants from North Africa (Le gone du Chaâba by Azouz Begag or Fatima or Les Algériennes du square by Leïla Sebbar)

      Like

  7. September 25, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Brilliant isn’t it? Extraordinarily well written. I actually wrote this one up at mine ages back. I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure I was hugely impressed by it. You capture it well.

    On a vaguely related note, I saw your reply to Wadhollowa re migrant literature. Are there any of those you listed that you’d particularly recommend?

    Like

    • September 26, 2020 at 8:15 am

      I’m a Fante fan. He’s brilliant and writes extremely well. He’s unconventional and you need to like his brand of humour but he’s manages to mix childhood impressions with grownup stories.

      The migrant literature books I mentioned are all good. Only Le Gone du Châba is translated into English (Shantytown Boy) though.

      You’ve got Black Bazaar by Mabanckou too.
      I’ll try to think of other books.

      Like

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