Bassani’s fiction is deliberately limited to the experience of the Jewish community in Ferrara and largely to the few years that correspond to the most formative period of his own life, from the late 1930’s until the end of the war. In those years, he was graduated from the university, embarked on a literary career, witnessed the local effects of the Holocaust, and joined the Italian Resistance. Only upon entering this seemingly narrow world, and surrendering to Bassani’s language, can one appreciate the richness of a narrative experience set in a narrow compass. Bassani’s genius is to evoke, in the microcosm that he creates, the connecting links between the tragedies and struggles endured by his characters and those of coreligionists in a host of other communities beyond Ferrara, and beyond Italy itself. To have been a part of a well-established Jewish community in that time and place was not only a personal misfortune; it was also, for the writer, a kind of historical gift, for it presented him with a local and universal theme and allowed him to link the fate of his Jews with that of all victims of the Holocaust.
The fiction of Bassani is of a piece, and The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses should be read along with the collection of tales in which it was published, in 1956, Cinque storie ferraresi (Five Stories of Ferrara, 1971). The stories follow the experiences of the Jews during World War II. The narrator of The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses anticipates the Special Laws and their consequences. Ninety-year-old Doctor Elias Corcos from “La passeggiate primadi cena” (“A Walk Before Supper”) is rounded up with 182 other Jewish victims and shipped off to Germany. In “Una lapide in Via Mazzini” (“A Plaque in Via Mazzini”), Geo Josz, the single survivor of that group of victims, returns from Auschwitz. Also among that group, and mentioned in passing in The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses, are the Finzi-Continis, the subject of Bassani’s most famous novel, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1962; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, 1965). This recapitulation of themes and the reappearance of characters gives Bassani’s oeuvre the unity of the saga novel. A writer who worked miniature in a provincial corner of Italy, Bassani nevertheless belongs to the European tradition.