The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani (“Who knows how, and why, a vocation for solitude is born?”)

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To me, the image of a garden is of so much potential. Inherent to a garden is growth, beauty, and the possibility of perfection. (I think of the Garden of Eden as presented in the Old Testament.)

But there is also the possibility of everything going wrong: weeds, decay, the infiltration of parasites.

So it’s interesting to me that Bassani titles his novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Not The House of the Finzi-Continis. Not The Hütte of The Finzi-Continis. The Garden. And what an apt title it is, to tell the story of this affluent Jewish family living in Ferrara, Italy, in 1938, who can indulge in the play a lovely garden has to offer.

There is a tennis court, disappointing to the Professor’s children, Micol and Alberto, but nevertheless a gathering place for their group of friends who wish to seize the beauty of summer. Waiting by the entrance gate to this garden’s tennis court are Bruno Lattes, Adriana Trentini, Carletto Sani, Tonino Colevatti, and three or four other young men and women. They meet to play tennis, to laugh and compete and partake of Skiwasser, the beverage Micol insists on providing as she finds it the most refreshing.

Our narrator, the man who falls in love with Micol, is also an insistent one. He comes to her house to play tennis never missing an afternoon, and when she goes away to study in Venice, he goes to her home to work on his thesis in her father’s library. He has been invited, to be sure, but he seems unable to determine when he might be overstaying his welcome; he is unable to determine the extent of Micol’s affection for him, which does not seem to surpass that of friendship, even after subtle gestures on his part. (How he laments not following her to Venice, where surely, he thinks, his efforts could have changed the course of events.)

If on that rainy afternoon, when the radiant Indian summer of ’38 suddenly ended, I had at least managed to speak to her–I told myself bitterly–perhaps things between us would have gone differently from the way they went.

After virtually throwing himself upon her, quite literally, she is forced to tell him that she does not love him. She does not wish him, in fact, to visit as much as he has. Perhaps he should take three weeks to stay away altogether.

So much is in decline: the relationship between Micol and the narrator who loves her; her brother Alberto’s health; the strength of the Jewish position in the late 1930s. We are told from the very beginning that Alberto dies of a lymphogranuloma, and the other members of the family are all deported to Germany in 1943.

It is a story of tremendous loss and rejection: of this man’s love, as well as the injustice the Jewish people suffer during this particular time period. It is a story, to me, of our ultimate isolation and solitude; no one is able to save anyone else.

Perhaps it is all we can do, sometimes, to take care of ourselves.

(I read this novel at Dorian’s invitation, and look forward to reading the thoughts of others who have read along. Jacqui’s is here.)

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