Reading Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis: An Invitation

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Following last year’s successful group reading of Jean Giono’s Hill, Scott (of the wonderful blog Seraillon) & I are hosting another group reading later this spring. Keeping with the Mediterranean theme we have in no way consciously established, our choice this year is Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962).

The blurb on the flap of my Everyman Edition says:

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a richly evocative and nostalgic depiction of prewar Italy. The narrator, a young middle-class Jew in the Italian city of Ferrara, has long been fascinated from afar by the Finzi-Continis, a wealthy an aristocratic Jewish family, and especially by their daughter Micol. But it is not until 1938 that he is invited behind the walls of their lavish estate, as local Jews begin to gather there to avoid the racial laws of the Fascists, and the garden of the Finzi-Continis becomes an idyllic sanctuary in an increasingly brutal world. Years after the war, the narrator returns in memory to his doomed relationship with the lovely Micol, and to the predicament that faced all the Ferranese Jews, in this unforgettably wrenching portrait of a community about to be destroyed by the world outside the garden walls.

Okay, so that last sentence is a bit rich (“unforgettably wrenching”–ugh!) but the book sounds intriguing nonetheless, especially in its narrative structure. (It actually sounds a bit like L. P. Hartley’s near-contemporary The Go-Between.)

Scott knows a lot about Italian literature, and I know something about Holocaust literature: between the two of us, I think we’ll have some helpful to context to offer. (Assuming that it even makes sense to call this a novel of the Holocaust–my sense is perhaps not quite, but it’s certainly a novel about the Fascist persecution of Europe’s Jews.) Beyond our own areas of interest, though, I’m excited to see what contexts and interpretations others will bring to the effort.

Scott & I will both be reading the William Weaver translation from 1977, though as Scott points out in his post there are two other translations available in English, including a recent one by the English poet Jamie McKendrick (2007) that I am curious about. (McKendrick seems to be translating a number of Bassani’s works.)

We’ll be posting our reviews the week of May 22. The book’s less than 250 pages. Won’t you join us?

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20 thoughts on “Reading Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis: An Invitation

  1. Emboldened by how much I was entertained by Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (not that there are many similarities beyond the country of origin), I’m in with Scott and you for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. I’ll do some research before opting for a particular translation.

  2. In spite of feeling somewhat daunted by the prospect of one of these group reads, I’m going to try to join you on this one. I actually have a copy of the Weaver translation just waiting to be read – plus your comparison with The Go-Between is an added incentive. Let’s see how it goes over the next few weeks…

  3. May 22? This is the first of a trilogy isn’t it? Part of Bassani’s Ferrara sequence which I think includes some earlier but presumably inessential short stories.

    Weirdly the others don’t seem to have been translated, but I think each stands alone so it probably doesn’t matter.

    I shall do what I can.

    • It’s actually a quintet, including a volume of short stories. All have been translated into English, but availability is another matter. These are stand alone works, but call back and forth to one another. For example, there’s a reference in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis to characters who appear in The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, but knowing The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles is in no way essential to reading The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

  4. Well, De Sica’s film was decent, although the blurb makes me think it is a rather more simplified (and probably sentimentalized) version of the novel. I’m intrigued enough to want to read it.

      • Well, it was in 1970, so well past his neo-realist prime, but an interesting film nonetheless. Anyway, I’ve ordered the book, and will make my best effort, but I’m going to a conference at the end of May, so I apologize in advance if I don’t manage to finish in time.

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