“The Novel of Ferrara” by Giorgio Bassani— Six Classic Books

Bassani, Giorgio. “The Novel of Ferrara”, translated by Jamie McKendrick, W.W. Norton, 2018.

Six Classic Books

Amos Lassen

“The Novel of Ferrara” consists of Giorgio Bassani’s six classic books, collected for the first time in English. Bassani is among the masters of twentieth-century literature and he and his Northern Italian hometown of Ferrara “are as inseparable as James Joyce and Dublin. This is the first time that they have been published in English as the unified masterwork that Bassani intended. The six books were fully revised by the author at the end of his life and include “Within the Walls”, “The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles”, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis”, “Behind the Door”, “The Heron”, and “The Smell of Hay”.

Set in the northern Italian town of Ferrara before, during, and after the Second World War, these interlocking stories give us a world of unforgettable characters: “the respected doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated until he is humiliatingly exposed by an exploitative youth; a survivor of the Nazi death camps whose neighbors’ celebration of his return gradually turns to ostracism; a young man discovering the ugly, treacherous price that people will pay for a sense of belonging; the Jewish aristocrat whose social position has been erased; the indomitable schoolteacher, Celia Trotti, whose Communist idealism disturbs and challenges a postwar generation.”

This is a memorial to the people of Ferrara and to the city itself, which assumes a character and a voice deeply inflected by the Jewish community to which the narrator belongs. This is a book of great pathos, eloquence, and elegiac splendor and above all it is a requiem for so much of Italian Jewry.

Bassani used stylistic detail as a way both to reveal and to conceal character and McKendrick captures Bassani’s elegance and subtle ironies.