Archie Fusillo spoke to the Year 8’s about family and growing up in Fitzroy. He talked about his novels Sparring with Shadows (1997) and The Dons (2002). Sparring with Shadows was his first book and the one that is the most closely based on his own life.
The Dons (2002) is his most successful book having been reprinted forty-five times. His publisher originally didn’t want to touch it saying that no one would be interested in a book about an old man and his grandson. Archie proved them wrong winning a Book of the Year award. It is the book that he is most proud of and a tribute to his dear grandmother (Nonna).
Before Archie spoke in more depth about The Dons he told a moving story about a seven year old boy from a small village in southern Italy, who after his father died, was taken out of school and sent to work in a quarry to support his family. As a man he travelled to Australia and worked hard to make a life for himself. The rest of his family then joined him in Australia. Now an old man he suffered several strokes. The family then had to make the decision to put him in a nursing home. They visited him regularly, particularly his son who would feed and shave him. Eventually he no longer recognised his son as he had Parkinson’s disease.
That boy was Archimede Fusillo. At the time of writing The Dons his father was healthy. Archie always had a very close bond with his father and remembered being told that he could become whatever he wanted to be when he completed school.
Archie asked the audience several questions. One was how many of us have actually written down any sad, funny or embarrassing stories that our grandparents may have told us? No one had. Archie spent three years writing down his Nonna’s stories. She took him to school with a suitcase sized lunch box and fed him pasta through the school fence, and how she called him ‘boy’ because she couldn’t pronounce his name. He also told us how things changed when she developed dementia. She began cooking breakfast every morning for her husband even though he had passed away many years before. She also did not recognise her family. Two and a half years later at a family wedding she remembered Archie. She called him ‘boy’ and told him that she loved him. She also kept saying ‘goodbye’. Three days later she passed away in her garden.
Archie wanted to write about growing up with an old person in his life. He researched The Dons by visiting nursing homes. As well as the elderly he met a 41 year old man who had become invisible to his family. Archie also went to shopping centres where he saw old people with packed lunches and thermoses.
The Dons is a novel about empathy and sympathy. It is about the value of family, friendship and understanding older people. It is also about love and redemption. Archie finished the talk by asking “Do we make the lives of older people worthwhile?”
The Year 8’s thought Archie’s talk was:
“Funny, interesting, emotional, balanced – a great balance between sad and happy memories.”
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