The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, by Giorgio Bassani, William Weaver…translator, is exceptional, breathtaking in scope and depth, an intensely, must read novel. This is my second reading of the novel (2006 was the first time), and I read it again for an upcoming book club.
Beautifully written, this is a novel not to be missed for those who like vivid word imagery, emotionally filled novels and story lines of love and loss, that take place through the beginning of World War II. The book is autobiographical in nature, and is a love story. It is a novel pertaining to Jewish heritage, about love of literature and goals of becoming a writer, about first loves and unrequited love, and coming of age during a time leading up to the beginning of World War II and the Holocaust.
The narrator is an Italian Jew from a middle class family. He meets Micol Finzi-Contini, the daughter of a wealthy Italian Jew, and her brother, Alberto. As a child, he falls hopelessly in love with Micol Finzi-Contini. The Finzi-Contini family live in a mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens and a forest. This environment is seemingly perfect, unblemished, and lends a magical illumination through the vivid word-imagery. Bassani leaves out no descriptive detail, and he fills our senses with lovely explosions of delight, and bittersweet moments of poignancy. There are also the heart-wrenching moments that are almost unbearable, leaving a lump in the reader’s throat.
We follow the children as they mature into young adults, and forward through their college years. During that time a tennis club is formed in the garden tennis court of the Finzi-Contini mansion. This is due to the fact that the Jews of Ferrara are not allowed to mingle with the Italian Christians, due to racial laws. The garden scenery offers a false sense of security, and affords them the opportunity to continue on with their circle of friendship. They all meet a few times a week, in a fairy tale type of setting, and one filled with beauty, serenity and happy moments. During this time an affair starts between the narrator and Micol. She eventually cools to his attentions. He eventually leaves Ferrara.
Time passes, Mussolini rises to power, World War II begins, and the Finzi-Contini wealth does nothing to spare the family from the horrific events of the war. Their idealized and tranquil lifestyle is not enough to prevent them from being deported. Their perfect lives become marred, blemished, and they become the victims of the storms of the Holocaust.
Bassani is brilliant in his writing, exceeding every expectation of how an author presents the written word and story line. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is an incredible masterpiece. This amazing historical novel is a metaphor for the innocence of youth and the innocence of the false security that wealth and prestige can protect and safeguard family lives. Monetary power was an illusion. It is an amazing book, poignant, intense, insightful, lovely, often filled with joy, but deeply sad within the shadows of war, love and loss.