Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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19
RIBALOW / ARTISTRY OF GIORGIO BASSANI
my rancor, I remained the same little, helpless assassin as always.
And as for the door behind which, once again, I was hiding
(from him, Luciano, and from my mother as well), I would not
find in myself, now or ever, the strength and the courage to fling
it open.”
Again, a study of confrontation or the lack of it; of being an
outsider where one wishes to be accepted as part of a society; a
subtle knowledge of one’s own weaknesses—and very few strengths.
Five Stories of Ferrara
is a volume I place last only because one
can, I think, understand it best if one reads it after having read
Bassani’s other books. It came early in his career and won the
major Italian literary award, The Strega Prize, in 1956.
The core of this volume is the city of Ferrara and the stories
are novellas rather than brief, incisive tales with a startling cli-
max. A Dr. Elia Corcos, who is stuck in a miserable marriage with
a Catholic woman, appears in at least two of the novels. He is
treating a child of the Finzi-Continis family and cannot save the
boy. Some of the stories deal, as the novels do not, with Socialists
and Catholics, but Ferrara is always in the forefront.
There is a strong sense of place in this collection: Bazzani names
the streets and the pathways, the churches and cemeteries, and
the people who reside on these streets. In “A Plaque on Via
Mazzini,” he offers a brilliantly moving study of a Jewish con-
centration camp survivor who returns home, first to cheers. But
the people start feeling uneasy and finally he is called a mad-
man, a part of a remnant of people they’d rather forget. It be-
gins forbiddingly: “In August, 1945, when Geo Josz reappeared
in Ferrara, sole survivor of the hundred and eighty-three mem-
bers of the Jewish community whom the Germans had deported
in the autumn of ’43 and whom most people not without rea-
son considered long since exterminated in the gas chambers, at
first nobody in the city recognized him.” He was fat, “of indef-
inable age” and a plaque had been placed on the brick facade
of the Temple in commemoration of the victims—and Geo Josz.
Yet there was “a kind of secret dynamic relationship” between
Geo and the people of Ferrara. He became thinner and the Fer-
rarese guiltier. To them, he became eccentric; odd, a madman.
Geo continued to lose weight and never changed his clothes.
“What did he want, this Geo Josz?” people asked, becoming more
and more uneasy as he reminded them of what he had gone