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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962) by Giorgio Bassani

The 1970 movie version of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis won the academy award for best foreign film.

Book Review
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962)
 by Giorgio Bassani

  The Garden of the Finzi-Continis depicts the existence of Jews during the rise of Fascism in Italy.  At the beginning, many of the older family members are actually Fascist, and the descent into virulent antisemitism is depicted through a silky gauze, with the social standing and wealth of the titular Finzi-Continis providing a shade from "reality" through much of the book.

  The narrator is a young Jew who is university educated, but from a middle class family.  He falls in love with Micol, daughter of the wealthy Finzi-Contini clan.  It's a doomed affair, for many reasons, not the least of which is Micol's lack of desire for the narrator and their differing social status.  As time advances, Jews are banned from their usual haunts, and the tennis court of the Finzi Contini's becomes a hub of activity for young Jews, most of whom are pursuing graduate level education in the absence of better activities in now-officially anti-Semitic Italy.

  It's not until the very end of the book, after the narrator has been firmly dissuaded of any romantic intentions toward Micol, that the darkness of the Italian Fascists really starts to manifests.   The extermination of the entire extended Finzi-Continis is alluded to, but not in any deep or emotional way.   Growing up, I was generally aware that the Italian Jewish community had suffered during World War II, but that their suffering was less than that of other Jewish communities who were in closer proximity to the Nazi's.   That awareness is backed up by the experience of the narrator and the extended community of Jews in this book.  The narrator himself avoids deportation to a concentration camp, and alludes to waiting out the war in an Italian prison.

  Bassani was a key figure in post-War Italian literature.  He published The Leopard, another classic post-War Italian novel, and this book rounds out the Italian experience in literature from the end of World War II through the early 1960s.  It was a fecund period for Italian literature, including the mannered neo-realism of film and book, the gritty realism of Pasolini and the beginnings of Fellini's exotic artistic career.

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