Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
remain safe, aware that danger lurks behind any corner. Because
some of the characters appear and reappear in different novels,
and in some of the short stories, the reader becomes part of Bas-
sani’s larger family of Ferrarese Jews. Anti-Semitism, not the
strident, overt kind, but the insidious, subtle form, snakes its way
into the lives of the well-to-do, secure Jews of Ferrara.
Are the books autobiographical (for the narrator, or hero, is
usually Bassani’s age)? In a recent interview, Bassani answered
this question: “But of course. Every novel is inevitably autobio­
graphical. But you must understand, I try to transform truth into
a universal fable. Fundamentally, it is autobiographical, but it is
not an autobiography. Do you understand? The ‘me’ in the book
is the same ‘me’ you find in the
Recherche
of Proust.”
Talking with Joyce Purnick of the
New York Post,
Bassani said,
“My grandfather was in a ghetto. The memory exists. But Jews
are completely assimilated into Italian society. They are lawyers,
senators, generals—even counts, you understand? Persecution,
when I was a child, was subtle, psychological—never tangible,
never recognized by the state. You understand?”
AN ANTI-FASCIST UNDERGROUND ACT IV IST
And he tries to make us all understand. He himself was active in
the anti-Fascist underground, was jailed and freed only after Mus­
solini’s fall. But there is little activism in his books. He tells his
tales with a sometimes maddeningly slow pace. You must get used
to his tempo. He doesn’t grab you in his first paragraph and cling
to you. His stories are deceptive. Nothing seems to happen, and
yet something always is taking place. People are changing. Large
events are casting shadows over small men and women. Tragedy
is always close by. You are not caught up in major cataclysms.
But in the end you understand people, their situations and the
sorrow and pity of their lives.
In
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,
the narrator falls in love
with the daughter of Professor Ermanno of the Finzi-Continis
family. It is a rich, influential family, living in a large mansion
behind its own wall and with its own gardens and tennis court.
It is the late 1930’s and Mussolini is beginning to yield to Hitler’s
anti-Semitic program. The daughter, Micol, is attracted to the
narrator but not very strongly. Like Italian Jewry generally, the