Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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HAROLD U. RIBALOW
The Subtle Artistry of Giorgio Bassani
I t
w a s
o n
o n e
o f
m y
f r e q u e n t
t r ip s
t o
l o n d o n
that
I
first be-
came acquainted with the name and work of Giorgio Bassani, the
Italian-Jewish novelist and short story writer who has dissected
the agonies, the alienation and the oppression of the Jews of Fer-
rara. Today, his name is more familiar than it was in the late
1960’s, when I picked up two of his novels in Foyle’s on Charing
Cross Road. I t is an obsession of mine to ransack bookstores in
London and I usually find many titles which, for copyright rea-
sons, are not for sale in the United States.
So when I picked up
The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles
in 1968, I
discovered a Jewish writer who was telling me about Jews and a
Jewish way of life completely alien to me.
The Garden of the
Finzi-Continis
was the other novel I discovered simultaneously.
Thenceforth, I kept telling people that Bassani was an important
artist and an especially valuable and aware Jewish writer. I t was
only when
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
was transformed
into a successful motion picture that Bassani started to win wide
recognition in this country.
Thus far he has produced five volumes:
Five Stories of Ferrara
(first published in 1956 and made available in the United States
in 1971);
The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles
(published in the original
Italian in 1958 and in a British edition in 1960);
The Garden of
the Finzi-Continis
(published in Italian in 1962, in Great Britain
in 1965, in a Penguin paperback a few years later in the United
States);
Behind the Door
(a 1964 novel, published in the United
States in an English-language translation in 1972); and
The
Heron
(first published in 1968 and translated into English and
published here in 1970).
If you read the books in any sequence, you will find that Bas-
sani is in the process of relating a single story. He writes of the
Jews of Ferrara in the 1930’s, when Fascism is beginning to take
hold, when the fairly well assimilated Jews are starting to feel
uneasy in their Jewishness and realize that they may no longer
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