Collected for the first time in English, Giorgio Bassani's novellas and stories trace the transformation of a close-knit Jewish community in an Italian town as Mussolini's Racial Laws go into effect and begin the process of dehumanization that will ultimately send many of the townspeople to their deaths by the Nazis.
Giorgio Bassani belongs to that extraordinary flowering of Italian Jewish writers, from Natalia Ginzburg to Primo Levi, who came of age under Fascism and thus grew up skeptical, allergic both to absolutism and pious rhetoric ... Bassani, in these cultivated worldly-wise stories, so steeped in tenderness, rage and loss, is like someone returned from the underworld to bear witness. His Novel of Ferrara is an uneven enterprise. The two collections of short stories (Within the Walls and The Smell of Hay) aren’t the equal of the four sublime novellas, and McKendrick’s translation is a little less felicitous, say, than William Weaver’s earlier renditions of The Heron and Behind the Door. Nonetheless, Bassani’s history of the 'little segregated universe' from which he was expelled is essential reading for anyone thirsting for an understanding of the complex density of Europe’s multicultural inheritance, or wondering whether the world we know might once again be falling for the temptations of fascism.
Each story is self-contained, but with characters and events that return and call to one another, illuminate one another, so that reading the whole oeuvre together we have the powerful impression of having seen three generations consume their lives, or all too frequently be consumed by violence ... [Bassani's] fiction is by no means circumscribed by its focus on a particular historical moment. Nor can his vision be so easily aligned with straightforward liberalism as many commentators would have us believe ... Bassani explores the relationship between fear and conformity, individually and collectively, what it means to be civilized, and what role art might have in the matter. For readers today, with our own civilization looking increasingly precarious—and the urge to withdraw from it ever more enticing—the allure of these stories is immediate ... Sitting beside the author watching a fire blaze—destructive, beautiful, and above all compelling—is largely how it feels reading Bassani’s work ... Complicity in denial is the coal that smolders throughout Bassani’s fiction. It is always what is unsaid that most matters ... It’s quite a challenge for the translator, and Jamie McKendrick’s new version often runs into trouble when the prose gets knotty. Negotiating the complex syntax seems to distract his attention from any number of errors ... Of course one wishes to congratulate the publisher for bringing out all Bassani’s fiction in a single volume; these are works that are stronger together, and fortunately they can still be enjoyed in this translation. Nevertheless, it would be good to see it carefully revised before the next edition.
It is justice delayed but justice nevertheless served to have this attractive English-language edition of The Novel of Ferrara ... The narrator is a double agent, both a witness of a vanished era and, as Bassani put it, a 'historian of oneself' ... the war years seemed to confirm Bassani in his sensibilities, which were shaped by the 19th-century realists, in particular Gustave Flaubert. An early moment in one story shows the descriptive exactitude of the narrator’s summoned memories ... Bassani’s worldview is tragic and melancholy, but it is also comfortingly orderly, steeled by the belief that precisely deployed language is still capable of capturing truth. His great theme was exclusion, a subject broad enough to allow him to move continuously between his books’ political and emotional landscapes ... the power of Bassani’s writing is such that, for a moment, his transitory world seems beautifully everlasting.