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ALFONSO by Felix Calvino

ALFONSO (2013)

by Felix Calvino

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Recently added byTimBazzett



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Felix Calvino, born in Spain, emigrated to Australia in the sixties where, according to his bio note, he worked for many years in the travel, restaurant and wine industry. He did not attend college until the late 1990s when he studied Spanish and English at the University of Melbourne and began writing. In 2007 he published his first book, a story collection, A HATFUL OF CHERRIES. As of this moment (February 2014) I'm not sure if Felix Calvino's ALFONSO is even available for sale in the United States, but I hope it will be very soon. Because I can't remember enjoying a first novel (a novella really, at just 117 pages) this much in a very long time.

ALFONSO is a deceptively simple story of the life of an immigrant worker, transplanted from his native Galicia in Spain, to Sydney, Australia in the early sixties. Having grown up desperately poor in Franco's Spain, left fatherless by that country's Civil War, Alfonso (there are no last names in the story) is fortunate enough to be apprenticed to a wise old woodworker/carpenter from the age of twelve. Several years later, armed with a skilled trade, an inbred sense of right and wrong, and a strong work ethic, the young man bids farewell to his mother and brother, and sets off for Australia. There he finds regular work with a Sydney construction firm, lives very frugally, saves his money and dreams of a house and family. He takes night courses to learn English and mixes shyly at the local Spanish Club, but fails to find the love he is looking for, feeling torn between the old ways of Spain and those of his newly adopted country, of which a friend says, "Australia had no soul, only overtime, beer, and poker machines."

But Alfonso perseveres in pursuing his dream, buys a ruined row house which he repairs and restores over a three-year period, as he watches his friends and co-workers begin to marry and start families - the part of his dream which comes harder. He listens to other friends complain about Australian women and struggles to slough off the Spanish idea of marriage in which the man must always be dominant and the woman submissive, and engages in a cautious and almost fearful chase-and-retreat courtship of Nancy, a strong young Australian woman. The story culminates with an extremely satisfying and exquisitely crafted scene suggesting rebirth and new beginnings.

Alfonso is a wonderfully imagined and fully realized character that will resonate with readers for a long time. I loved this book! Highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 26, 2014 |
Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. Félix Calvino’s poignant first novella Alfonso, published in December, proves that beauty and sophistication are born of simplicity; beneath the surface of its apparently simple, gentle narrative lies a depth of honesty, tenderness and wisdom that resonates with the heart and ensures the tale's echoes will be felt long after turning the last page.
Set in the 1960s, Alfonso is the story of a young man who flees his impoverished Spanish village to begin a new chapter in Sydney, carrying in his suitcase a fervent desire for love, and a dream of a stable life. Over many years, Alfonso labours to master English, purchase and renovate a house, and foster close bonds of love and friendship. But it is the powerful undercurrent of Alfonso’s inner transformation that propels the narrative, as he struggles to navigate the murky waters of fear, superstition and cultural conflict that threaten to turn his dreams into an endless mirage.
Calvino's style is light and nuanced; he paints his story in watercolours, creating images no less vivid for the gentleness of his brushstrokes. Calvino gracefully illustrates his thoughtful characters so that their souls shine from the spaces between his carefully placed words. His elegant prose evokes the tones and hues of a forgotten era, when the Opera House was not yet complete, and the rhythms of life were simpler.
Alfonso is a soulful, beautifully written work that charms and captivates with the warmth and authenticity of its voice. Imbued with the subtle shades and seasons of a young man’s cultural and personal journey, this simple story captures nothing less than the beauty of life.

Review by Natalie Repetto
Nudgee, Queensland
Australian Book Review

Félix Calvino’s short novel tells the story of a young man who moves to Australia to escape Franco’s Spain. The strange thing about the book (given that its author has spent so long in Australia) is how unlike contemporary Australian literature it is. David Malouf has championed Calvino, but then there has always been something essentially Mediterranean about the author of Ransom. Flaubert was uncompromising in his belief that the author’s opinions and even ideas should remain absent from a work of literary art. If the French master thought the novel of ideas was a degraded thing, what would he have thought of the Australian ‘novel of issues’, the books (we all know them) that might have been written off the back of an episode of Q&A. Alfonso bolsters no Australian cultural myths, nor does it succumb to the equally tiresome genre that is ‘myth debunking’.

Calvino never reveals himself to be so much a writer of foreign sensibilities as in his concern with Australia rather than Australianness. Alfonso is a work of art rather than of ideology. Its subjects are homelessness and belonging, love and estrangement. The lines with which Calvino sketches his habitually, even wilfully lonely immigrant man and his Australian romantic interest, Nancy, are as broad and hard as those in Goya’s etchings, yet there is a quiet quality about the book, and in the spaces between the words you feel the presence of deep running waters. Says the principal character, ‘Beyond the plane was the universe itself, nicely lit by uncountable stars for which, like his feelings, he had no names.’

Calvino’s book paints rather than explains. It has nothing to instruct you in. Like all true art, it invites you into an experience, one well worthwhile.

Patrick Holland

Afonso - Australian Book Review
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