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The Garden of the Finzi-Continis  
First Eng. edition cover
First Eng. edition cover
Author Giorgio Bassani
Original title Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini
Translator Isabel Quigly
Country Italy
Language Italian
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher Einaudi & (Eng. trans.) Atheneum
Publication date 1962
Published in
English
1965
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN NA

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Italian: Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini) is a historical novel by Giorgio Bassani, published in 1962. It chronicles the relationships between the narrator and the children of the Finzi-Contini family from the rise of Mussolini until the start of World War II.

Background

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is considered the best of the series of novels that Bassani produced about the lives of Italian Jews in the northern Italian city of Ferrara. Although the novel focuses on the relationships between the major characters, the shadow of creeping fascism, especially the racial laws that restricted Jews' participation in Italian society, looms over all the novel's events.

Plot summary

The novel opens with a brief prologue set in 1957 in which the narrator, an Italian Jew, describes a visit to the Ferrara cemetery where the Finzi-Contini family mausoleum stands, empty in all but two slots: a young child, Guido, who died of illness before the narrator was born; and Alberto, the son of the Finzi-Continis and a friend of the narrator's, who died of a sexually transmitted disease before the mass deportation that sent the remainder of the family to a concentration camp in Germany. At this point, the narrator reveals that none of the Finzi-Continis survived.

The first part of the book covers the narrator's childhood experiences, describing the various social circles of the local Jewish population and the mystery around the Finzi-Contini children, Alberto and Micòl, who were schooled separately from the other Jewish children and who only appeared at the main school for the annual exams. The narrator fails his math test in this particular year, the first time he has failed any of the annual exams required for promotion, and he takes off on his bike out of fear of his father's reaction. He ends up outside the walls of the Finzi-Continis' mansion, where he has a conversation with Micòl, the Finzi-Continis' pretty daughter. The narrator is invited by Micòl to enter the garden. He excuses himself out of concern for the safety of his bicycle. She then comes over the wall to show him a safe hiding place, but while hiding his bike he dallies in contemplation of Micòl - and loses his chance to see the garden until years later.

The next two parts of the book cover the years when the children are all in or just out of college. The racial laws have restricted their ability to socialize with the Ferrarese Christians, and so the narrator, Alberto, Micòl, and several other Jewish teenagers form an informal tennis club of their own, playing several times a week at the court in the Finzi-Continis' garden. During these visits, the narrator and Micòl begin a tentative affair, but Micòl's attitude towards the narrator varies and the affair slowly peters out.

The final section of the book covers the slow fading of the narrator's involvement in the tennis club, his futile attempts to restart the romance with Micòl, and his eventual departure from Ferrara.

Film adaptation

Vittorio De Sica's 1971 film adaptation stars Lino Capolicchio as Giorgio (the narrator). It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for Best Screenplay (based on material from another medium). It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival.

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