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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like finding gold in the city garbage dump
That other great Californian writer Charles Bukowksi writes in the preface to Ask The Dust that this was the first book he found in LA city library where the words jumped out of the page. Fante writes in a beautifully simple style, following the frustrated Arturo Bandini as he recounts his time in LA, constantly finding himself in love and trouble. Ask The Dust is part of...
Published on 17 Nov. 2000 by Z. Rasul

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too implausible
I came to this through Charles Bukowski's recommendation in his own writings, and I can see its appeal for him. It didn't have much appeal for me, though. I enjoyed the first few chapters, though it reminded me strongly of Knut Hamsun's Hunger, a similar tale of a struggling author and his curious personality quirks. With Hunger, though, the intensity never lets up; this...
Published on 25 Sept. 2011 by Archy

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like finding gold in the city garbage dump, 17 Nov. 2000
Z. Rasul "zah_rasul" (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask the Dust ("Rebel Inc." Classics) (Paperback)
That other great Californian writer Charles Bukowksi writes in the preface to Ask The Dust that this was the first book he found in LA city library where the words jumped out of the page. Fante writes in a beautifully simple style, following the frustrated Arturo Bandini as he recounts his time in LA, constantly finding himself in love and trouble. Ask The Dust is part of a trilogy in the Bandini series and is probably the best, although Wait Until Spring Bandini and Dreams From Bunker Hill are also excellent novels that have the same simple, powerful unaffected style of John Fante. Fans of his work might be interested in checking out the work of John's son, Dan Fante - whose novel Chump Change is written in a similar style fusing together the old and new worlds of the American city.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile Read ... Brilliant Ending ... about the Humiliations of Love, 10 Jun. 2006
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
This book lingered on my mind for weeks. So it must good. It's the story of Arturo Bandini, a young would-be writer who comes to Los Angeles to make it as a writer, but discovers poverty and loneliness instead. That is, until he encounters Camilla Lopez, a Mexican-American waitress.

What makes this romance interesting is, like all great love stories, it is doomed.

In fact, there is quite of bit of friction and nastiness right from the beginning between these so-called lovers. And ultimately it is one-sided, with Arturo sadly learning a grand lesson in humility. (We've all been there.) We see the character arc from self-absorbed ego-driven writer (with delusions of grandeur) to self-sacrificing and responsible human being. This is a tragic tale, with Camilla's decline and Arturo's helplessness underscored. The ending is brilliant. I literally fell into a stunned silence at the end.

My only small complaint is that John Fante doesn't to know much about the main narcotic alluded to in the book: Marijuana. It's almost comical how little he knows about it ("Reefer Madness" might be his main reference and source of information); yet this aside, ASK THE DUST remains a powerful book, a haunting one. One I would recommend, especially to writers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Informed, 14 Mar. 2006
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
I read Ask the Dust for the first time this week, but when I think on it, Fante first came to my attention when I saw the first paragraph of this novel used as the epigraph to Bret Easton Ellis's 1994 collection of stories, The Informers.
"One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed."
Probably Ellis intended to use this to infuse his collection with the essence of Fante, as his characters were modern versions of Fante's: feckless, drifting, irresponsible. There the similarities end though, for Ellis's characters derive their plotlessness from an excess of money and unregarded privilege, whereas Fante's have the opposite. Also, Ellis's characters are suffering - to cite the blurb - from the death of the soul, whereas Fante's are bursting with heart and soul from the first page.
Ask the Dust was published in 1939 but it feels entirely fresh. Like his disciple Bukowski (by an embarrassing coincidence, I read what I thought was the opening of Ask the Dust in the bookshop and liked it enough to buy it, only to get home and realise what I had liked so much was the start of the introduction, penned by Charles Bukowski), Fante uses mostly ordinary, unordained language to extraordinarily vivid effect. This makes the occasional fine phrase - 'the waves eating the shore' - all the more arresting. We live right alongside Fante's alter ego Arturo Bandini as he struggles with his writing, his love Camilla, and his own zigzagging sense of self-worth. For comparisons to Bukowski (or vice versa, as Fante was writing thirty years earlier), Bandini is not actually as low and hopeless as Bukowski's Henry Chinaski. He has a fair measure of success with his writing, and his mostly one-way love affair with his 'publisher' J.C. Hackmuth is frequently hilarious.
Nonetheless the essence of the Depression and life lived on a day-to-day basis pervades the book and infuses it with a powerful sense of sadness. As I understand it, Ask the Dust is part of a quartet of novels featuring Arturo Bandini and I'll surely be picking those up soon, along with his other novels in print in the UK, Brotherhood of the Grape and 1933 Was a Bad Year.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fante was Bukowski's God, 11 May 2010
Scott Coates (Stoke On Trent UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
I have been a Charles Bukowski fan for a number of years and it was through reading his work that I picked up on John Fante's work. Ask the Dust is his most recognisable work and so it should be, I ascribe this work to what Arturo Bandini says of his short story that was published, a work of screaming poetry. I was gripped from start to finish, the words dance along the pages resting in your mind. Fante paints a wonderful picture of Arturo Bandini, struggling writer holed up in seedy Califronian hotel. Bandini's inner conflcit is the centerpiece of the book, a tortured genius who then meets Camilla Lopez a waitress in a run down bar. The strange relationship they embark on flirts with sheer romantic joy and outright madness in the city of dust.

This book is timeless, it reads like it could have been written in 2008 never mind 1938. The best recommendation I can think of for this book is that it was the reason that Charles Bukowski became a writer. For anyone that picks up this book the prose is sometimes majestic, written from the heart and soul. John Fante has remained largely unrecognised when it comes to American fiction and that is a good thing in a way, because it makes his work even more unique when you delve deep inside it.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how passion truly manifests itself, 10 Jun. 2002
A. R. Gray (The South) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask the Dust ("Rebel Inc." Classics) (Paperback)
to anyone who feels passionate and yet unable to express him or herself, to anyone who has ever fallen truly in love (and I mean the one where they seep into your veins like a virus and infect your every moment), to anyone who feels ashamed of themselves for no other reasons than those society enforces upon them, and to those who feel that something quite beautiful exists within them and no-one seems to care - please hunt for this book, read every word without missing a single letter, and don't tear from it until you reach the end. A brutal encounter between the Nietzschean quest for total autonomy, and the demands of living in a world where passion and love are not choices, but curses. A narrator who understands himself and his world, yet could not be further from the truth (if there is one). He fights himself, the world, Camilla Lopez, purely because he is caught in an existence where you are what you do yet feel what you are.
for christ's sake read this - I have still not discovered anything quite as beautiful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squirm yourself, 16 Jan. 2011
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
Picks on the red open sore of racism, with the twisted wince making blushes of a man ham fistedly trying to make human contact and achieving it only through emotional torture. An invitation to in habit every shred of energy used in emotional game playing is wrenched through a wringer and wrung dry.

Fante guides you through the various stages of stupidity, forcing the reader with their eyes wide open to relive and imbibe every waking moment. At the same time a certain magic exudes from the writing style, grinding out a daily existence through belief, desire and need. The protagonist is a writer looking for a lucky break and through moments it arises and then subsides.

This introduces characters from outre worlds with universal habits, the landladies, the room mates soaked in gin and riddled with the smells of mice and cockroaches. This piece of writing is soused in the burning vinegar preservatives of Hamsun. Fante is more a humanist than Hamsun whose magical views of the land drove him forever East. Fate takes the humiliation of poverty as a form of human levelling as well as shame.

The writing is poetic as he transports the reader through those early adolescent attempts to attract and retain girls with clumsy moves of a tipsy topspy running a drunken three legged race....

This is when pushed back to its foundations, an inter racial love story. It delves into need, despair, loneliness and the humiliation of poverty and not feeling white enough in a land of self judgement. Thi cries to the winds are the names of those left in the memory banks whose existence has vansished and left no traces apart from a dull fugue.

Just shut the door when you leave, close it tight, because after reading this novel all those memories tumble out non stop
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. -Genesis 3:19, 21 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
This edition has a bonus- Charles Bukowski's great preface on how Fante stacks up against writers that were at once more famous--and far more anemic. Ask the Dust didn't revolutionise writing. It didn't create a new genre. There are others like Hamsun, Bukowski and many more that have written in this genre or style, but for me 'Ask the Dust' stands taller than all the rest.

This book is such an emotional roller coaster that from one minute to the next you will change from being choked up and depressed, to laughing out loud, to revelling in the hero's triumph and then right back to choked up and sad...................................... ready to start the ride all over again.

I enjoy this genre immensely, but Fante's 'Ask the Dust' is the only one that I find myself continually pulling out of my book case to peruse the pages for nth time. Just seeing the book conjures up those emotions I remember from my first reading. The only bad part about reading this book was the knowledge that I would never be able to read it again for the first time.

In 'Ask the Dust' Arturo Bandini comes to sunny Los Angeles to write the great American novel. Only problem is he doesn't feel very American. And Los Angeles is full of fogs, bad coffee, unemployment, and alcoholic loners who butcher calves in fleabag hotels. Bandini, the narrator of Fante's thinly veiled autobiography, has only his talent and he's not shy about announcing it. For anyone who cares, anyone who will listen, he's right up there with the great ones.

Fante/ Art Bandini is a self-loathing slug. He loves himself, he hates himself. When he chances upon a Mexican beauty working in some cheap cafe, he finds the perfect target for all his bile. A trainwreck romance ensues. Bandini bangs out prose with unbelievable ease, but he can't defend himself against a torrent of petty degredations: the palm trees covered in dust, his own failure as an Italian in the Casanova mold................. the desert calls.

Fante's novel is all about displacement; that gnawing feeling of not belonging to anyplace or anyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ask the Dust, 11 April 2014
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Canons) (Paperback)
John Fante's short novel,"Ask the Dust"(1939) is set in the Depression-ridden Los Angeles of the 1930s. It is a semi-autobiographical novel which tells the story of Arturo Bandini, an inexperienced 20-year old who aspires to be a writer. Bandini, the son of Italian immigrants, has left his home in Boulder, Colorado to pursue his dreams of writing in a shabby area of Los Angeles. When the novel begins, Bandini has had one story accepted for publication the "Little Dog Laughed" of which he is inordinately proud. Dogs come to play a large role in the book even though they have no role in Bandini's first story. Bandini's editor, Hackmuth, is based upon the figure of H.L. Menken, and he offers Bandini great encouragement in his literary efforts.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, Bandini moves into a cheap, dilapadated hotel, the Alta Loma, in an area known as Bunker Hill. He struggles with writing, poverty, loneliness, sexual hunger, and with understanding his Catholicism. As the novel opens, Bandini is running out of money, owes back rent, and faces a writer's block. Bandini is also seeking, unsuccessfully, sexual experience with women.

The book revolves around the relationship between Bandini and a young Mexican waitress named Camilla Lopez who works at an establishment called the Columbia Buffet. Lopez and Bandini are deeply attracted to each other yet their relationship explodes with hostility. The story explores the racial prejudices of both Bandini, with his reaction to Mexican-Americans and Camilla, with her envy and her own prejudice against children of immigrants. Camilla is in love with Sammy, a bartender at the Columbia Buffet.Sammy becomes terminally ill and still rejects Camilla. Camilla is addicted to drugs and suffers a severe emotional breakdown. Fante tells a story of love, frustration, rejection and sexuality. The story is bleak and sad as Camilla wanders into the desert alone with her dog and Bandini, heartbroken, becomes disillusioned with writing.

In the course of the story, Bandini meets and has a short affair with an older woman, Vera Rivken, who suffers from a terrible disfigurement. Bandini is able to move from the affair to write his first novel based upon his imagination of Vera's life.

This book is, for the most part, tautly and sparely written. On occasion, Fante adopts a lyrical, highly expressive and poetic tone. The book portrays beautifully the streets, cheap rooming houses, and dives of the poorer sections of Los Angeles. The secondary characters in the story, including the grasping landlady, Mrs Hargraves, Bandini's cadging alcoholic friend Hellfrink, and several prostitutes and dancing girls as well as its settings give the book a gritty feel of immediacy. An earthquake plays a pivotal role in the book. Bandini is an egotistical, naive young man and yet the reader becomes involved with him, as well as with Camilla, Sammy, and Vera. It is easy to understand why the underground novelist and poet Charles Bukowski together with many other writers was influenced greatly by this still comparatively little-known work.

Bandini's writing begins to succeed when he lets himself go and stops becoming stressed over attempts to forge a literary style over his typewriter. Thus Bandini's second story is in effect a long letter to Hackmuth which the editor turns into a publishable work by removing the greeting and salutation. In his reaction to the affair with Vera, Bandini quickly writes his first novel. In a mixture of egoism and insight, Bandini describes what he deems valuable in writing: "It won't shake the world, it won't kill a soul, it won't fire a gun, ah, but you'll remember it to the day you die, you'll lie there breathing your last, and you'll smile as you remember the book. The story of Very Rivken, a slice out of life." (p.146)

In 2006, a movie of "Ask the Dust" was released which was adequate at best and does not do justice to Fante's novel. This short, multi-themed book of tough urban life deserves to be read. "Ask the Dust" is a minor American classic.

Robin Friedman
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolute Delight, 21 April 2012
Stuart Ayris (Tollesbury, Essex, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
Ask The Dust was first published in 1939 when the author was thirty years old. It tells of struggling writer, Arturo Bandini (Fante's alter-ego much in the same way as Ray Smith is in The Dharma Bums for Jack Kerouac), who has moved to Los Angeles to make a go of his writing career. It is a first-person narrative story whose style is very similar to that of Bukowski who once declared: Fanti is my god! In fact Arturo Bandini and Henri Chinowski (Bukowski's alter ego) could be at the very least brothers, if not twins. It also stands comparison to Kerouac's Tristessa in terms of the main character's fascination with a woman with whom he believes he is in love; yet it is what she represents that truly holds the fascination.

Arturo Bandini is in his early twenties when the book begins and we are guided through various events, none of which are particularly dramatic, through his eyes. It is fair to say that at no time does he come off with any real credit. He is pompous, selfish, downright unpleasant at times, a bully and a liar. And the store that he holds in his (at the start of the novel) only published short story - The Little Dog Laughed - would make every fledgeling author squirm! I know I did! I believe that every independant author just trying to make their way, like me, would get a lot from Ask The Dust. Arturo has an unstinting belief in his talent and on one level you have to admire him for it. Times are very hard, living off free oranges and stolen milk and yet he still believes that one day he will make it as an author. He idolises his agent as being the one man who has spotted his genius and pours scorn on all those that don't recognise it. The only person ever to have told him they had read his short story is a fourteen year old girl whom he implores to read it aloud to him whilst he lays on his bed. He then claims to be closer to her age than he looks before she is whisked away by her mother.

So on one level this is the story of a struggling writer - his loves, ambition, confusion and daily worries. On another it is wonderful social commentary about how Los Angeles has sucked the life out of all those who live within its environs.

Ask The Dust is achingly funny at times but in a really poignant way. The final scene is wonderful and the whole book, from the manner in which it came into my hands, to the delightful prose, I found to be an absolute delight.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A, 31 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Ask The Dust (Paperback)
In "Ask the Dust"John Fante renders a pre-freeway Los Angeles; a Los Angeles that is organically connected to the surrounding environs, constantly reminded by the ever-present dust that it is a desert city.

That desert city was focused on downtown with its train tracks and depots, trolley system and urban grid known today as the "historic core." His alter-ego and anti-hero Arturo Bandini rides the Angel's Flight railway not as a tourist, but as someone who must get down the hill to Broadway for a drink and a pack of cigarettes.

It is a Los Angeles not yet divorced from its western reality, not yet a left coast New York, primed, but not entirely enveloped by the entertainment business. In fact, in a letter to his cousin Jo Campiglia, he describes the book as having "no Hollywood stuff."

Fante's is centered around Bunker Hill; a residential redoubt of ramshackle hotels, fading Victorian mansions, and wood-slatted apartment buildings.

And who resides in the redoubt? Well, the familiar characters of today and yore. But let us bow to Bandini, a struggling writer paying rent by the week for a hotel room; on the cusp of a great literary success:

Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street. The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots of their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun...The uprooted ones, the empty sad folks, the folks from back home. These were my countrymen, these were the new Californians. With their bright polo shirts and sunglasses, they were in paradise, they belonged.

Time has been kind to "Ask the Dust" in the way it is kind to a lot of literature because the world it portrays is gone or much changed. So what was in 1939 an oddly paced, edgy and offbeat drama of insignificants taking place in a world familiar to many, is now the same drama in a disappeared world, which adds appeal.

And what of that drama? Fante writes Campiglia that it is the, "Story of a girl I once loved who loved someone else, who in turn despised her."

Fante was a successful screenwriter in Hollywood with credits such as "Full of Life," "Walk on the Wildside," and "My Six Loves," among others, to his credit, so his ability to synopsize a story quite so well is understandable given the demands of "industrial" writing.

With equal efficiency does he go on to explain, "Strange story of a Mexican girl who somehow doesn't fit into modern life, took to marijuana, lost her mind and wandered into the Mojave desert with a little Pekingese dog."

And there you have it, in Fante's words, which preclude the highway scribe from going more into more plot details.

Aside from the portrait of depression-era Los Angeles, a rather poor-fitting excerpt on an earthquake experienced by the author in Long Beach, and more of the above-quoted visions of a downtown now overrun with antiseptic corporate towers, "Ask the Dust," is the portrait of a woman:

Except for the contour of her face and the brilliance of her teeth, she was not beautiful. But at that moment she turned to smile at one of her old customers, and I saw a streak of white under her lips. Her nose was Mayan, flat, with large nostrils. Her lips were heavily rouged, with the thickness of a negress' lips. She was a racial type, and as such she was beautiful, but she was too strange for me. Her eyes were at a high slant, her skin was dark but not black, and as she walked her breasts moved in a way that showed their firmness.

But something about this girl, Camilla Lopez, works for him, perhaps it is this...

The girl moved like a dancer, her strong silk legs gathering bits of sawdust as her tattered shoes glided over the marble floor.

Bandini, a guy who is serious about his literature, if a bit roughly-hewn in the personality department, latches onto the girl's class and lower life station when her natural aristocracy provokes his second generation Dago insecurities.

Those shoes, they were huaraches, the leather thongs wrapped several times around her ankles. They were desperately ragged huaraches; the woven leather had become unraveled.

Camilla works downtown at the Columbia Buffet where she and Bandini open the door to a relationship better left closed. He's taken in a strange way by her; she disdains. He gains her interest through the application of lesser arts. "I hate you," she tells him in turn. By the end of their psychological skirmish she blows him a kiss goodbye.

Do people really behave in this way?


She follows him out, girlish, flirty, surrendering. Rather than relish his conquest, Bandini digs for a deeper cut.

"Those huaraches - do you have to wear them, Camilla? Do you have to emphasize the fact that you always were and always will be a filthy little greaser?"

Nice guy, Arturo Bandini.

She looked at me in horror, her lips open. Clasping both hands against her mouth, she rushed inside the saloon. I heard her moaning, "Oh, oh, oh."

In between this first meeting and the next, Bandini has a second short story published "back East." Yes, in spite of his cruelty, we're rooting for this first-person narrator much as we do an escaped convict hunted by hounds. He takes his subsequent winnings down to the Columbia Buffet where Camilla is wearing, "New white pumps, with high heels."

She's not impressed by his newfound wealth, in fact, prefers him the other way. It was for Bandini she'd shed the huaraches, but in doing so, loses him again.

The new shoes were hurting Camilla's feet. She didn't have her old style. She winced as she walked and gritted her teeth.

They go back and forth anew. There's an unhealthiness that pervades their relationship rooted largely in the fact she is inexplicably in love with a rundown, dying in fact, bartender at the buffet.

"Ask the Dust," really, has two anti-heroes, or at least one anti-hero and one anti-heroine in the bewitching, irascible Camilla.

On a first "date" (for lack of a more appropriate word) she takes Bandini out to the beach at Santa Monica in her 1929 Ford. The dish he portrays reads delicious...

After a mile she complained about her feet and asked me to hold the wheel. As I did it she reached down and took offer her shoes. Then she took the wheel again and threw one foot over the side of the Ford. At once her dress ballooned out, spanked her face. She tucked it under herself, but even so her brown thighs were exposed even to a pinkish underthing. It drew a lot of attention. Motorists shot by, pulled up short, and heads came out of windows to observe her brown naked leg. It made her angry. She took to shouting at the spectators, yelling that they ought to mind their own business. I sat at her side, slouched down, trying to enjoy a cigaret (that's Fante's spelling for the smoke) that burned too hotly in the rush of the wind.

Fante went on to enjoy success in his own time, to own a ranch in Southern California, and then to become the tragic in his own life's play, stricken by diabetes that left him blind while relatively young.

One hopes his darkness was in some way brightened by the vision of his Mexican girl.

Ah, Camilla. You are the reason for the book, the muse around which a story, your story, asked to be spun. With many shortcomings, its autobiographical bent the greatest, you rescue "Ask the Dust," ask that it be read, ask us to ask, "What dust did you become?" And beg us to touch it with our lips.
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Ask the Dust ("Rebel Inc." Classics) by John Fante (Paperback - 14 Feb. 2000)
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