Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
darkness was falling, after our parents had exchanged embarrassed
greetings in the shadowy porch, we always nearly ended up mount­
ing the steep steps to the second floor together, where, crammed
with all kinds of people, echoing like a church with organ music
and singing—and so high up, among the roof-tops, that on some
May evenings, when the side windows were wide open to the sun­
set, we would find ourselves steeped in a kind of golden mist—was
the large Italian synagogue.
This convoluted description goes on, each sentence overlaying
the previous one, and adding meaning to the whole:
Only we, being Jews, of course, but Jews brought up in the very
same religious rite, could really understand what it meant to have
our own family pew in the Italian synagogue, up there on the sec­
ond floor, and not in the German synagogue on the first floor, which,
with its severe, almost Lutheran gatherings of prosperous Homburg
hats was so very different. . . .
Bassani then describes in detail the actual service, the Jews
worshipping, and he reflects that “ in spite of their differences,
I felt their profound solidarity.” And so, Bassani tenderly creates
a world of Ferrara Jews.
His love for Micol is not reciprocated. Her brother, sickly Al­
berto, is doomed. The narrator’s father, a Fascist who makes
apology for Mussolini, begins to regret his views. And anti-Semi­
tism becomes more and more dangerous. In an epilogue, we learn
that Alberto had died in 1942 of a malignancy, “ before the
others.” The others were sent to a concentration camp in 1943
and the narrator informs us that between the summer of ’39 and
the autumn of ’43 “ I never saw any of them. Not even Micol.”
In The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, a less dense novel, less lyric,
Bassani balances the alienation of a Jew and that of a homosexual
who is ultimately driven to suicide. Dr. Athos Fadigati, an ear,
nose and throat specialist, comes to Ferrara and entrenches him­
self as an important medical man. At first, the community wel­
comes him warmly. But as time passes and he doesn’t marry, sus­
picions are aroused. On the surface, he is a happy, congenial man.
“ People liked his politeness, his discretion, his obvious disinter­
estedness, his unobtrusive charity to the poorest of his patients.
But the way he was made—physically, I mean—must have done
even more to recommend him: the gold-rimmed spectacles that