The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani
published in Italy 1962; in England 1965 (no translator credited) Part 2
[1938: The Jewish young people of the Italian city of Ferrara are no longer welcome at their tennis club, so take to meeting at the garden of the wealthy Finzi-Continis, who have a tennis court.]
One evening… against all our expectations, Professor Ermanno and Signora Olga [Finzi-Contini] did turn up. They looked as if they were passing the tennis court just by chance, after a long walk in the park. They were arm in arm. He shorter than his wife, and very much more bent than he had been ten years before … was wearing one of his usual pale, lightweight linen suits, with a black ribboned panama hat pulled down over his thick pince-nez, and, as he walked, leaning on a bamboo cane. She, all in black, was carrying a large bunch of chrystanthemums obviously picked in some remote part of the garden, during their walk….
‘Don’t get up’ said Professor Ermanno, in his pleasant musical voice. ‘Please don’t disturb yourselves. Do go on playing.’
Of course he wasn’t obeyed. Micol and Alberto introduced us at once: Micol did most of it.
observations:The book is a sad and elegiac story of the Jews of Ferrara, going about their lives in the late 1930s with a black cloud growing over them. The Jewish young people are meeting regularly. They flirt, they fall in love, they discuss their futures and their studies and their exams, but we know from the opening pages what awaits them.
In the notable non-fiction work by Edmund de Waal, The Hare with the Amber Eyes, the Jewish family builds a mausoleum which remains empty because the family members die in Nazi concentration camps: in this book something similar happens.
The start of the book has a little girl telling her family that tombs from long ago are just as sad as those from recent times – a memorable image, and one that fits the book, as the events related get further and further away.
The photo is from the Bain collection, via