Book of a lifetime: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, By Giorgio Bassani

 

It is in the nature of many great novels to create worlds of their own, entire ecosystems that may be wildly different from the reader's own experience and are yet so vivid as to become real. The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis is one such.

I have never lived in Ferrara, although I have visited a couple of times, and certainly not in the Thirties and Forties of the last century, and not in the company of the Ferrara Jews.

And yet, reading it, I'm there. Or at least – which is perhaps an even cleverer trick – I'm there inside the mind of the anonymous narrator as, almost reluctantly, he goes over his memories of those times. Memory and imagination are deeply entwined, never more so than in writing. History becomes fiction, fiction becomes history.

So it is with Giorgio Bassani's novel. Blown by the swirling winds of the Fascist racial laws, young Ferrara Jews are gathered like leaves into the urban park that makes up the Finzi-Contini garden. Rejected by their tennis club, they have the idea of resurrecting the old grass court hidden among the trees. And when you follow Bassani's narrator into the garden with them, you don't know whether you are reading fact or fiction, his memory or your own.

Alberto – effete, brilliant, tragic – is there for you to recall; and the wise and austere Professor Ermanno; and the beautiful and elusive Micòl, whom the narrator loves but never possesses.

But then, when I first read the book I was in the grip of an affair with a Micòl. The book took my own life and showed me how, in a different place and a different time, it might have been. The moment when the narrator failed to make love to Micòl stays in the mind as though it was a personal inadequacy. Thus the characters haunt the reader. They meet in the garden, play tennis, talk, flirt, while all around their Eden the rough winds are blowing, and far away, further even than they can hear, the storm of the Holocaust rages.

This is the most oblique of Holocaust books. These Jews are affluent, educated, assured, assimilated. They are part of the fabric of Ferrara life and have been for centuries. And yet you know. That's the saddest thing of all: right from the beginning, you know because the narrator knows. You know they will all be blown away "light as leaves, as bits of paper"; while they don't. And at the end you, like him, will be bereft.

Simon Mawer's 'The Girl Who Fell From The Sky' is published by Little, Brown

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever