Va Fa Sa translates as "You have to go (Va), to do (Fa) to know (Sa)." This book is a straightforward recounting of Hugo Cipriani's life beginning that Sunday in September in 1934 when he walked out of his Bedford, Ohio home at the age of 21 without telling family or friends or even knowing where or why he was going.
Cipriani started writing this book at the age of 87 while suffering from congestive heart failure. He wanted to explain why he left home that day in 1934 and how his philosophy of Va Sa Fa developed. Health issues, including a quadruple bypass, delayed his progress but he kept working and became a first-time author at the age of 94.
The book is easy and interesting to read. Cipriani recorded his thoughts and experiences in a notebook so the details of his adventures are fascinating in their accuracy. We learn how he spent 16 cents for a certain meal or how much a radio or movie cost. He even recorded every movie he saw including the stars and his own personal ratings. (Citizen Kane earned 5 stars)
The times were so different then. Cipriani became an expert hitchhiker and travelled the country via his thumb. He ended up in California and crossed paths with many of the biggest names from that golden age - pitching nickels with Fred MacMurray or caddying for a golf foursome that included Bob Hope and Bing Crosby for example.
He wanted to study film at USC but needed school credits (and money!) first so he enrolled at UCLA which was free for California residents. There he saw the young Orson Welles, saw UCLA nearly oust USC from a Rose Bowl bid and work/study for many semesters.
In between classes and work he travelled the country visiting friends and family or bowling for teams and individually. Younger readers will marvel at how he could live on $1 a day and safely hitchhike across the country. He would stay at YMCAs or Transient Bureaus or wherever he could.
He made several trips back to Cleveland and Bedford and encouraged his friends to adopt his Va Sa Fa philosophy. Today we might compare it to Nike's familiar "Just do it" motto.
The book is filled with voyeuristic pleasure as we are provided with details as to the author's daily life - from the mundane (what he ate, how he got to work) to his deepest thoughts. It's an easy read and provides colorful insight into the days of the Great Depression till the beginning of the US involvement in World War II.
I did find the author to be selfish. The Sunday he left, he told his mother he was going out for "some fresh air" and she and the rest of his family didn't hear from him till a letter arrived the following Friday.
He was always relying on the help of others - for money, rides, special treatment at school, etc. Sure he got his adventures but frequently because of the help of family and strangers. He was 21 when he left - old enough to be more responsible.
Despite that, his adventures make for good reading. The book concludes with his acceptance into the Navy in 1941.
The author closes this book with "It's now time to close my memoir. At twenty-nine, I'm still a young man." Hopefully, Cipriani is working on the next chapters in his story.
Reviewed by Dan Hanson
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