The Brotherhood of the Grape
by John Fante
John Fante (8 April 1909 - 8 May 1983) was born in Denver, Colorado to an immigrant Italian bricklayer father and an extremely religious mother. Fante's early years were spent in poverty and the anti-Italian prejudice of the time. His education led him to an absolute, insane determination to become a writer, so he dropped out of the University of Colorado in 1929 and escaped to California, here he had some initial success with novel writing but then had to take jobs writing for Hollywood studios which he described as "the most disgusting job in Christ's kingdom".
All of his books – even those previously rejected by publishers – are still in print.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE GRAPE, written in 1977 is a novel about, and narrated by, a fifty-year-old writer, Henry Molise. Henry, the eldest son of an Italian-American family returns to the family home to help out with the latest drama – his elderly parents want to divorce.
Henry is conflicted. His marriage is in trouble and he feels that to take a trip at this point could be disastrous but he’s been asked by his brother for help and this, coming from him, means it must be serious.
So, Henry returns to California to find mayhem. Nick his ageing tyrannical father, described by Henry as “judge, jury and executioner himself”, is having another affair (so Henry’s mother says) and spends the rest of his time with his wine-drinking buddies - the so-called Brotherhood of the Grape. This brings to the fore memories of their childhood and Henry reflects on the suffering this now frail old man inflicted on his family all his life through his drinking, gambling and womanising.
Nick has been asked (as the erstwhile premier stonemason and builder in the town) to build a smokehouse in the mountains for a friend, and he asks Henry to help. Henry reluctantly agrees and this crazy quest forms the backbone of a story steeped in pathos and humour.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE GRAPE is a book, written with beautiful simplicity and with passion, about men and their allegiances to one and other and about the complexities of the father, son relationship. A poignant and sad novel that will make you want to read more of John Fante’s work – I did.
Read more about John Fante on the <a href="http://www.canongate.net/JohnFante">Canongate</a> website.
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