Dan Fante in his Torricella

il Centro
Cultura & Società
giovedì 23 september 1999

"My father taught me the idea of simplicity in writing and a consideration for great authors"
The writer, John Fante's son, in the family's ancestral village.
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

A special light in his eyes, a wide smile on his face, the always present cigar in his mouth. Yesterday morning Dan Fante expressed in each gesture his joy at finally being in Torricella Peligna. And, though he did not speak a word of Italian, it was clear to everybody that he was happy to be in his grandfather Nick's place, which his father John so often mentioned in his books. Dan Fante came to Abruzzo to present his book but, above all, to see Torricella.

A face like a little boy, saucy, curious, sprightly, in spite of his 50 years and over, and a not exactly exemplary life. Camouflage pants, cotton shirt, blue tennis shoes and a capricious nose pierce in his left nostril, Dan Fante answered the questions of il Centro, reported in the following interview, with great amiability, almost with affection.

Q. Why do the Fantes always speak of their own family in their books?
A. «It is in a sense our feature. My father's and mine ».

Q. Your book "Angeli a pezzi" (published by Marcos y Marcos) is wholly autobiographic. Even when you tell about the protagonist's alcohol problems?
A. «It is autobiographic fiction, summarizing 15 years in three weeks. Therefore some facts from my life are concentrated in the story told in the book».

Q. When you first came to Italy, you wanted first of all to see this region whereas your father, who came to his parents' country twice and for long stays never came to Torricella. How was that?
A. «My father did come to Italy twice, but specifically for the scriptwriting of a movie to be shot in Naples, and he had a very strict schedule. Hollywood pressed him for the script, so he never had a chance to leave Naples or Rome to visit his place of origin».

Q. What about you, what did you feel when you came to Abruzzo?
A. «The place is extremely beautiful, and I wonder how anybody could leave. The view is spectacular, the towns small, the people very likeable. It is the most beautiful place in the world. My grandfather was crazy to leave Torricella and he was also still crazy after he left Italy (laughs confidently)».

Q. How much do you feel you are Italian and how much Abruzzese?
A. «I don't know how much I feel I am Italian but I feel I belong to this place because it is the place of my father, my grandfather, my ancestors. I have a deep tie to this place and I came also to visit for my father, who was not able to get here», he says with emotion.

Q. In the book "Tesoro, qui è tutto una follia" (published by Fazi) there is a letter form your father to you where he says: «Rome is a city of thieves», but in the province it is different, «they tell me the abruzzese are honest people ». Do you remember this letter?
A. (laughs) «Yes I do, I have the original ».

Q. In that letter there is also mention of the crazy traffic in Italy, and it was written in 1960. You saw Italian traffic today, what is your opinion about it?
A. «In Milan everybody is crazy. I drove a taxi in New York for four years, but I must say they are the same, or even worse».

Q. What was John Fante like as a father?
A. «Absent. Absent», he answers seriously and with a note of sadness. «We never saw him much. Ours was a classic Italian family: my mother raised the kids, my father was only there in the evenings when he was back from work. When we met we played baseball because he was a great baseball fan. Joe Di Maggio, you know him? He was one of his heroes. His character was volcanic in a sense, hot-tempered so there were times you'd better stay at a distance. However when I grew up we used to talk a lot, above all, of literature. And when he passed away, I was alone with him in his hospital room, holding his hand in mine».

Q. Just as you recounted in your book "Angeli a pezzi" (="Chump Change").
A. «Exactly, but without the dog» he laughs. (In that book Dan tells how on John Fante's death in his hospital room there were his son and Rocco his beloved bull-terrier).

Q. In "A ovest di Roma" (Fazi editore -"West of Rome in English) there is Denny who wants to become a writer and avoid the military service. Is that a true episode?
A. «No, not everything that is written there is true. Actually I was an objector because I did not want to go to Vietnam, to that stupid war. Stupid war», he repeats.

Q. How deeply did your father's writing influence your writing?
A. «Greatly, greatly, but not in the sense that he taught me how to write, which he didn't. Rather through his own pages he passed to me the idea of simplicity in writing and a consideration for great authors. Being a writer to my father was like being a priest, which is the highest aspiration for someone; and often we spoke of such writers as Hemingway, Fitzgerald...»

Q. Which, in your opinion, is your father's best book?
A. «From a literary point of view, "1933 Was a Bad Year". As regards content however - and also the greatest inspiration for me -"Ask the Dust" ».

English text edited by Albert Porreca