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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Luminous in the shadows, 27 April 2006
A luminous novel, all the more so for the storm that threatens.

It is set in Ferrara mostly between the autumn of 1938 and the summer of the following year. Interesting times. Mussolini's 'racial laws' have just come into force. Their impact on the life of the Jewish narrator is not, at first, that serious: he is ejected from his tennis club. Indeed, for the door that has been closed on him, another more interesting one immediately opens: that to the garden of the Finzi-Continis. This wealthy Jewish family has long led a reclusive existence, the parents leaving their grounds only for the sabbath, the two children educated at home. The narrator knows both Alberto and Micol (they come to his school annually for the exams) but has had very little contact with them. Nevertheless, Micol has always drawn his eye, and at the new 'tennis club' that meets now every afternoon of that autumn, the attraction grows and seems to be reciprocated. Yet, when the winter descends on the town, nothing has 'happened', and soon Micol departs for Venice to complete her degree. When she returns, and he tries to move the relationship on, she rejects him saying that two people so similar could not be in love. He makes a fool of himself in ways familiar to us all, but eventually is able to accept what can never be.

It's a tale of first love and of becoming a man. In the background, there is the social exclusion of the racial laws, the slide towards war and the impending holocaust. Obviously the character of the unnamed narrator (it is only in the film that he acquires a name, Giorgio) is not aware of all this, but the writer is. For this book is an act of witness, though not (as with Primo Levi) of the Holocaust itself, but of the many pasts that it wiped from the face of the earth. Bassani wants to make some of those pasts live again, to rescue them from oblivion, to skirt death using the instrument of the creative memory.

Death is ever present. Our first sight of Ferrara is the massive, almost gaudy, tomb of the Finzi-Contini family. The generation that built it is now housed inside, but of the generation that followed (the four that we know - Professor Ermanno, Signora Olga, Alberto and Micol plus the first-born, Guido), only two are commemorated: Guido, who died very young and Alberto, laid there riddled with cancer in 1940. There are three missing, dead but also disappeared, their particular fates unrecorded.

The achievement of the novel is that he is able to evoke the living, breathing fascination of these characters and, in particular, of Micol. She is certainly a young woman seen through the eyes of a young man in love, but not limited by that. She is beyond him, something both mysterious and luminous and following a path of her own. He 'becomes a man' in the moment he is able to acknowledge that. What she might have become is impossible to say - he, and therefore, we - do not understand her enough to even speculate. But she lives as a character on these pages, and seems to come from beyond them. It says so much for this novel that he makes us feel the horror of the unimagined slaughter to come just through the awareness that it destroyed such a person as Micol.

There are a lot more reasons than this to praise The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. I don't need any more to make me re-read it.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars memories of the past, 21 Jan 2006
By 
Montigiani Mario (siena, toscana Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) (Hardcover)
A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in Ferrara, and while walking through the streets of the town I was reminded of the Finzi Continis' sad story.
Going by the wall surrounding the house where they used to live, I went back to the times of their youth(the 30s and 40s) and I could nearly hear their happy voices, Alberto, Micol and their friends playing tennis in the big garden which represented their happy world.
Ghosts of a time past, happy young people unaware of what was waiting for them just round one of the corners of their lives.
I read that book a few years ago and I was impressed by the sad, but never tragic mood of the author Giorgio Bassani.
The story is a biographical recollection of the life of a Jewish family in Ferrara before and during the Nazi-Fascist persecutions of world War Two.
The story of the one-sided love of the author for Micol Finzi Contini the Jewish girl who seems to foresee her destiny and refuses to return his love. She seems to know about her deportation to a concetrantion camp somewhere in Germany where any trace of her and her family would be lost.
She is doomed and she knows it.
Mr. Bassani tells his children this story while visiting an Etruscan necropolis, and sadly points out that there are no tombs where to grieve and pray for Micol and her family, there is only their memory left in the hearts of those who loved them:
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragic, mystical and real, 6 Feb 2009
This review is from: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) (Hardcover)
The narrator's passion for Michol is a mixture of idealism and awkwardness. The garden is a sanctuary but also a defence against everything the Finzi-Continis aren't. The story starts in the 1950s, looking back to the late 1930s but the war and the deportations of the Jews of Ferrara aren't explicitly dealt with. By depriving the Fascists and Nazis the limelight they so often get in stories of this period, Bassani concentrates on the families at the heart of this story. One of the most memorable scenes is at the synogogue where, as a child, the narrator is covered by his father's threadbare prayer shawl and watches Michol under her father's shawl. An intimate moment in a moving novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strange, beautiful and ultimately highly unsettling idyll, 26 Jun 2012
By 
Hywel James "Hywel James" (Devon, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) (Hardcover)
Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000) was a distinguished Italian writer whose novel, "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis", was published in Italy in 1962. This Everyman's Library edition has been beautifully translated into English by William Weaver and was published originally in 1977. The novel is lightly-veiled autobiography to an extent but its charm and its considerable power come from the profound interaction between the experience of unrequited love of the narrator for Micol, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish-Italian family, set against the increasingly threatening background of Fascism in the years just before the outbreak of war in 1939 and shortly after, and the persecution and later murder of the Jews.

Bassani's genius in this book is to tell a story of young love in almost microscopic detail - his powers of observation are extraordinary - and at the same time to evoke in subtle ways the threat of Fascism in Europe to a way of life, a people, a race, a group of individuals. He succeeds brilliantly in accommodating these two perspectives, so that one never dominates the other.

If you haven't read Giorgio Bassani, you could compare this book to Alain-Fournier's "Le Grand Meaulnes" or Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". Although the Bassani is a chronicle of ultimately greater tragedy than either, if you know and enjoyed those novels, I feel sure you would relish "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed this book, 26 Nov 2013
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I enjoyed this book, and look forward to seeing the DeSica film, now. Bassani's book is written like a memoires, written some years after the events. Much of it concerns the narrator's idyllic--though rather static--existence in 1938/39; he spent his time then playing tennis in the private courtyard of the Finzi-Contini's, a wealthy jewish family. Mussolini's anti-semitic legislation is starting to bite, and a certain Mr Hitler is chancellor of Germany. But the significance of events beyond their garden wall does not seem to dawn on the young people--nor, for that matter, on their elders. Bassani evokes this atmosphere of compacency and denial beautifully.

There is romance, too. Well, almost. The narrator becomes very fond of the Finzi-Contini's daughter Micol: this curious (non) romance is the overarching story which pulls the whole book together.

The style Bassani adopted for this story is worth noting. There is a curious passivity about the narrator--indeed, about most of the characters. They just react to life, and sometimes do not even do that. So long as the tennis is good, they seem to be satisfied. This vaguely pathetic quality is very italian, perhaps? Only japanese writers (and poets) are able to evoke that passive, hopeless kind of tragedy as well as Bassani does here.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly brilliant!, 5 Feb 2004
By 
S. C. Gilotti "stefanocg" (London) - See all my reviews
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I read this book for school purpose and I have to say that I truly loved it.
It is the autobiography of Giorgio Bassani, told in a time span of around 15 years, a time where the ambiguous and mysterious female figure of Micol was a central part of his life.
They live in a time where racial laws are being passed by fascist Italy and as a result Micol and her family open the gates of their huge mansion and even bigger garden to a handful of jeweish friends that have been banned from any recreational activity. In this garden Micol guides the narrating “I” figure through the interior journey in search of his identity and maturity. Unfortunately this journey of truth can only end but in the sourest way; the rejection of a deep love felt by the author for Micol, his spiritual guide.
This is a truly moving book. Interesting and funny! I really do advise you read it…you really do feel you have something more in you once finished.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, 31 July 2014
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This review is from: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) (Hardcover)
Beautiful book - and the film is moving, too. A real insight into Italy in the 1930s and 1940s.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unrequited love in Eden, 31 Aug 2013
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This is an enchanting story written in the first person about a young Jewish boy,then man,who lives in Ferrara,a mediaeval town near Venice. The attractive thing about this book is the it tells several interesting stories.
It tells of Jewish Italians and their gradual isolation by the Fascists, starting with such matters as exclusion from the town's tennis club,and moving on to more serious exclusions. It is also the story of the unrequited love that the narrator has for a beautiful girl,Micol, who is a Finzi-Contini. They are a semi nouveau riche family with aristocratic pretensions and certainly plenty of money and refined habits.
Their tennis court becomes the new 'club' for the excluded young Jewish tennis players. The narrator forms a friendship with Micol from the age of about twelve, and they spend many hours together. Unfortunately for him his friendship develops into adult love and hers doesn't. This is the theme of the book.
The fact that,as Jews, The Finzi-Continis are doomed to a concentration camp death is revealed early. The pampered lifestyle they all lead is treated as natural. There are servants and the protagonists attend more restaurants in a couple of years than I have in my life. There is gentleness about this book that is very true to life. It is remarkable that they all continue with their tennis playing,thesis writing and intellectual conversations with enormous change,violence and death looming.
This is a remarkable book and the translation is excellent.
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