The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is set in Ferrara, Italy, in the period leading up to the Second World War. The Jewish narrator looks back on his fascination and relationship with the Finzi-Continis – another Jewish family, in the setting of their idyllic garden. The main part of the story is set in a relatively short space of time in which we see the effect of the introduction of the Racial Laws on the protagonist and his friends. This is set against the narrator’s love affair with Micol Finzi-Contini, during a time in their lives which should be happy and carefree but which is instead full of foreboding and the threat of war.
Micol and Alberto Finzi-Contini are of a similar age to the narrator but, due to their older brother’s death at the beginning of the novel, they are home-schooled and are seldom seen in the community apart from once a year to take their exams at the school and, by the narrator, at the synagogue. However, the narrator feels a special attachment to them:
“So far as I was personally concerned, in my relationship with Alberto and Micol there was always something more intimate.”
But, apart from a thwarted encounter with Micol, when the narrator feels he has “escaped some great danger”, it is not until they are much older that they become properly acquainted.
The majority of the novel is set in the Finzi-Continis’ garden, where the narrator becomes friends with both Micol and Alberto. He and Micol spend numerous afternoons exploring the vast gardens:
“The garden being ‘some’ ten hectares in size, and the driveways, large and small, extending over a dozen or so kilometres, a bicycle was, to say the least, indispensable.”
The garden acts as a shelter for a small group of Jews, at a time when they are losing their rights in the rest of society, and the novel provides some very poignant moments as summer comes to an end and the threat of war draws ever closer.
I found this novel quite difficult to get in to; the first section up until the point where the narrator meets Micol seemed a little slow going, although the part when he muses about what it would be like to kiss her was, I thought, one of the best lines I have read. However, I enjoyed the rest of the book and thought that the juxtaposition of the narrator’s love affair with Micol against the build up to the war was very well done. This is more of a slow, leisurely read than a page-turner but an enjoyable read all the same.