The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis
by Giorgio Bassani
In this coming of age novel set against the increasing discrimination suffered by Jewish people in Italy leading up to World War II, an unnamed narrator describes his memories growing up in Ferrara as a young Jewish man. He is linked to the Finzi-Contini family and their children Alberto and Micol by their shared Jewish heritage, seeing them at the synagogue and building a relationship with them through the years by visiting the Finzi-Contini mansion gardens for tennis matches and long walks with Micol. As his emotional attachment to Micol grows, the narrator realizes that the difference in their upbringing is a much deeper divide than he anticipated.
This felt like a classic literature version of a young adult novel, with early love, youthful pastimes and life lessons learned against the backdrop of a beautiful and romantic garden setting. The historical background of the novel, set against the impending start of a war that may spell the doom of many of its principal characters, casts a foreboding atmosphere over the novel’s plot, which intensifies with the worsening of discriminatory laws against the Jewish protagonists. Ultimately, the reader knows that the narrator’s future and that of Micol and Alberto Finzi-Contini is predestined and bleak, even as they are living their lives full of the simple complications of regular life. The contrast lends tension and pathos to the narrative, in a quick read that is full of beautiful quotable passages by the expert Bassani.
Giorgio Bassani was born in Bologna in 1916 but spent his youth in Ferrara, which he would ultimately use as the backdrop for his most popular novel The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis and his other works. He took part in the Italian resistance movement in World War II, opposing Hitler’s forces and the puppet regime put in place in Italy. After the war, he dedicated himself to cultural life and writing, becoming an editorial consultant for publishing house Feltrinelli. His other works include The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, A Prospect Of Ferrara, The Heron, Five Stories Of Ferrara, The Smell Of Hay, Behind The Door and Rolls Royce And Other Poems.
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