Alfonso - Review / Bazzett

February 27, 2014

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 |