(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is an elegy about the Finzi-Continis, Ferrara’s richest Jewish family, all of whom died soon after their deportation to Germany in 1943. As seen through the eyes of the narrator, a middle-class Jewish boy, the exclusive Finzi-Continis are the source of much wonder. He is fascinated by their possessions—from their imposing but tasteless family tomb to their stately, ornate carriage and their gloomy, neo-Gothic mansion surrounded by a huge park. He is even more fascinated by the Finzi-Contini children, who are tutored at home instead of attending the Jewish primary school and state high school and who speak in accents like those of no one else. On the other hand, the Finzi-Continis’ self-imposed isolation disgusts the narrator’s father, especially when the family withdraws from the Jewish community by ceasing to worship in the thriving Italian synagogue and by beginning to worship in the tiny Spanish synagogue which had not been used for more than three hundred years. The narrator’s father charges that the Finzi-Continis are guilty of an “aristocratic-type anti-semitism.”

In part 1, the novel traces the history of the Finzi-Contini family from the patriarch, Moise Finzi-Contini, who amassed the huge family fortune, to Moise’s great-grandchildren, who prove to be the end of the Finzi-Contini line. Part 2 begins in October, 1938, two months after the imposition of the first of what was to become a series of racial laws which forbade, among other things, Jews from marrying Gentiles and from employing Gentiles as servants. One result of the racial laws is that all the Jews are forced to resign from Eleonora d’Este, a private tennis club, when a mixed doubles team consisting of a Gentile woman and a Jewish man appear to be winning the club’s doubles championship. As a result, Alberto and Micol Finzi-Contini, who are in their early twenties, invite the ostracized club members to play on the private Finzi-Contini...

(The entire section is 808 words.)