Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
as he prepares you learn how he has survived, that his wife isn’t
Jewish, that he feels guilt over his survival. We learn also about
his relationships with his fellow Italians, most of them not Jew­
ish. He has a cousin whom he generally avoids (also married to
a non-Jewess) but the general idea is that he go hunting this day,
with a guide with whom he is uncomfortable.
Everything that happens emphasizes his alienation, his being
a stranger, his being unwelcome, or grudgingly accepted. When
he finally gets down to the hunt he cannot kill, especially a
wounded heron. As the bird thrashes about in agony, he identi­
fies with it and realizes that like the heron he, too, is a defenseless
stranger in a hard, terrorized world. And if he wishes to imagine
death, "then why not kill himself?” instead of hunting birds and
animals. It is a slow-moving book, painful to read, for the hero
suffers much. It has an ambiguous conclusion. Edgardo flirts with
the thought of suicide and prepares himself for it. But we are left
wondering, as perhaps we are intended to, as to what he will do.
But what remains most vivid is the sense of guilt of the Jewish
survivor that he has lived through the Holocaust and that life is
less and less meaningful the more he thinks about the recent past.
THE JEW AS AN OUTSIDER
In
Behind the Door,
Bassani again deals with the theme of the
Jew as an outsider. At first it appears that the narrator, a Fer-
rarese high school student from a well-to-do family, is “in” and
not “out” and he knows all his fellow students. The school lead­
er, named Cattolica, is good-looking, Catholic, and the center
of school life. Cattolica never visits anyone’s home; they come
to his house, and he is upset that he is never invited. Then
a new student comes to town, an unlikeable boy; he toadies
up to the Jewish student who, almost before he knows it, is flat­
tered. Pulga, the new boy, really is prepared to betray his friend­
ship with his Jewish classmate, and the class leader proves to the
Jew that Pulga is beneath contempt, spending time belittling the
Jew. Yet the Jewish narrator hasn’t the courage to confront his
so-called friend, who is really a Fascist at heart. Luciano Pulga
was able to face the truth of his relationship to the Jewish boy.
As the narrator puts it: “I wasn’t. Slow to understand, incapable
of a single action or a single word, locked into my cowardice and