il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Italian Word of the Week GIARDINO

italicsBy Daniela Gross

This is a difficult season for gardeners. When you look out the window and see only bare trees, dry lawns and no flowers for miles, it’s inevitable to feel a bit gloomy. However we can find comfort in fantasizing about our ideal garden. In these “gardening dreams” there is one fabulous unattainable “giardino“ (“garden”) that none of us will ever forget. It is the mythic “Giardino dei Finzi-Contini – The Garden of the Finzi Continis”, a novel by Giorgio Bassani, one of the most important Italian Jewish writers, published in 1962.

The book was made famous worldwide by Vittorio De Sica’s 1971 movie, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The story is set in Ferrara, a small and fascinating city in Northern Italy, which before the Second World War hosted a flourishing Jewish Community. Here lived the narrator and the Finzi-Contini children who came from a prominent and sophisticated family, both Jews. Their complicated relationship, chronicled in the dramatic period from the rise of the dictator Benito Mussolini to the deportation of the Italian Jewish Community, are the subject of the novel. But there is another central character in the book like in the movie, and it is the garden. Hidden within the walls of the beautiful Finzi-Contini house, full of magnificent and ancient trees, it guards the secrets, and the hopes of these youths destined to be so atrociously affected by history. It is a place of peace and joy, which will always remain in our hearts.