Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

I ran across this book on one of my book group lists on the internet a couple of years ago but like so many books, I bought it and promptly stashed it into the masses to be read at some vague and later date. It can be quite hard to be rescued from this indignity as I forget about these books but this one is apparently a classic of Italian literature and appears on the list of books that could be read for the 1% Well Read Challenge so I headed to my stacks and pulled it out. The story, told from the perspective of a man looking back in time, tells of the Finzi-Contini family, a rich and somewhat reclusive Jewish family in Italy in the years leading up to World War II. The narrator is a young man, a Jew, who comes to be included in the inner sanctum of the Finzi-Continis, first befriending Alberto and Micol Finzi-Contini and then falling in love with the beautiful Micol. The story is an intricate one that balances the growing menace throughout Europe with the insular nature of the Finzi-Contini estate. The novel starts when the narrator is traveling with friends to Etruscan tombs. Their young daughter innocently sends him on a journey through memory to the time that he knew Alberto and Micol and their intriguing, eccentric family. This is not a lighthearted book, even though it details the narrator's growing love for Micol. The future looms too darkly over the Ferrarese Jews, including the Finzi-Contini family for all their seeming unconcern for Hitler and the suddenly enforced racial laws. There is a definite feeling of melancholy and dirge about the book and whether this is original or a function of the translation, it suits the storyline quite well. I won't say this is an easy book; it would be difficult if for no other reason than that we as readers know what inescapable fate is in store for these people but it is also a slow and ponderous book to read. There is much to appreciate but it has to be done slowly and with great deliberation.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this book in the library the other day; remembered it was one I'd always meant to read. I didn't pick it up... maybe another time. Thanks for posting your thoughts on it.


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