The calm before the storm - a journey into 1930's Italy
‘Papa, why are old tombs less sad than new ones?’ A child’s innocent question and a visit to an Etruscan cemetery north of Rome in 1957 causes the unnamed narrator to recall a summer in his native Ferrara two decades earlier. When the local tennis club shuts its doors to Jewish members, the aristocratic Finzi-Contini family invites fellow outcasts to play on its private court. There the narrator and his friends enjoy one final summer of freedom. But a political storm is brewing, and the Jewish community of Ferrara is as doomed as the narrator’s love for Micòl, the capricious daughter of the Finzi-Continis.
'One of the great witnesses of this century, and one of its great artists'
This haunting, elegaic novel is a gem
of 20th-century European literature.
Through a haze of painful memories,
the narrator looks back upon a summer
of enchantment – not just with the
unattainable Micòl but also her brother
Alberto, and the kind Professor Ermanno
and his wife Olga, most of whom will be
deported to Germany in 1943, never to
return. The 1970 film adaptation won an
Academy Award, but only in the book can
we appreciate the story’s nuances, and the way in which the narrator portrays his conceited, insecure younger self from a wiser and sadder perspective. Giorgio Bassani was born and raised in Ferrara. Imprisoned for anti-fascist activities in 1943, he became a major literary figure after the war, winning the Viareggio Prize for this novel. This edition features the 2007 translation by Jamie McKendrick and illustrations by Laura Carlin. The novelist Simon Mawer has written an introduction to this ‘measured, beautiful and intensely sad book’, which is also his ‘novel of a lifetime’.