The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

by Giorgio Bassani

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I dreamt, for example, of finding myself, just like that very first day I set foot in the garden, watching her play tennis with Alberto. Even in the dream I never took my eyes off her for a second. I kept on telling myself how wonderful she was, flushed and covered with sweat, with that frown of almost fierce concentration that divided her forehead, all tensed up as she was with the effort to beat her smiling, slightly bored and sluggish older brother.

The narrator recounts a dream about Micol, and it is significant that it is a dream because she is a dreamlike figure to him, isolated like a modern Juliet behind the high walls of a garden. The passage shows the intensity of the narrator's physical attraction to this young woman who seems sexually alive as she plays tennis and grows flushed and "tensed up," but there is never fulfillment or relaxation. The passage also shows how dream and reality merge in the narrator's mind: when he describes her sweat and concentration, is this the memory of the dream or is it a memory of the time he really watched Micol play tennis with her brother—or both?

To protect your freedom, there's nothing better than having a good telephone extension in your room.

Micol says this to the narrator. It's an unintentionally ironic statement, for Micol is anything but free, and telephones are a symbol of communication, whereas the Finzi-Continis have largely isolated themselves from the outside world. Getting telephone extensions in their bedrooms also represented a lavish level of luxury in that period of Italian history, showing both the family's wealth and yet its inability to connect with reality. The telephones are not going to be of help to them.

Poor souls! In this regard you couldn't thing of them as anything better than simple plebs, forever condemned to irreparable abysses of ignorance.

This is the Jewish narrator's commentary on gentiles, even those who are his close friends, who simply cannot understand the intricacies and hierarchies of the Jewish world they are about to destroy. Ethnicity is of prime importance in fascist Italy, where the state is determined to purify itself of "inferior" races or groups. And, as the novel shows, it is more complicated than outsiders might understand.

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