Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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15
RIBALOW / ARTISTRY OF GIORGIO BASSANI
family will ultimately be persecuted and the Finzi-Continis
garden, walls and large house will become a small ghetto before
the Jews are taken away.
In telling his story, Bassani describes Jewish self-hatred, the
isolation of the Jews, various scenes characteristic of this portion
of Italian Jewry: how they worship in their synagogue; how they
mark Passover; how they respond to anti-Semitism; how they
react to the German invasion of Poland. Some of the people in
this novel play roles also in other Bassani books. Thus, the homo-
sexual physician in
The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles
is alluded to in
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,
just as characters who are the
major subjects of
Five Stories of Ferrara
are familiar personalities
in a few of the novels.
Let me offer excerpts from
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
to
illustrate how Bassani deals with Jewish questions. The “I ” of
the story is explaining how he relates to Micol and her sickly
brother Alberto, with whom he is very friendly:
Well, of course, in the first place we were Jews, and this would
have been more than enough, apart from anything else. Let me
make myself clear: we might have had nothing at all in common,
not even the little that comes from having sometimes chatted a
bit. But the fact that we were what we were, and that at least twice
a year, at the Passover festival and at Yom Kippur, we appeared
with our respective families all at once at the same street door in
via Mazzini—and it often happened that, having gone through the
door together, the narrow hall beyond it, half in darkness, obliged
the grown-ups to much hat-doffing, hand-shaking, and polite bow-
ing, although for the rest of the year they had no other occasion
for it. . . .
And Bassani continues his analysis:
The fact that we were Jews, though, inscribed in the registers
of the same Jewish community, in our case hardly counted. Because
what on earth did the word “Jew” mean? What meaning could
terms like “community” or “Israelite universality” have for
us,
since they took no account of the existence of that more basic in-
timacy—a secret intimacy that can be properly appreciated only by
those who have had it—derived from the fact that our two fam-
ilies, not from choice, but through a tradition older than any pos-
sible memory, belonged to the same religious rite, or rather to the
same “school”? When we met at the synagogue door, generally as