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Literary Events

Literary Events: Nothing of note except the Texas Book Festival, which will be the weekend of October 25th. Planning ahead might get you there...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another Paradise Lost

I have the Paradise Lost theme on my mind today because I took some photos of what several weeks ago was a very deeply wooded piece of Brushy Creek Trail near my house and is now being cleared for a road and a hundred houses. This comes to mind when thinking of our February discussion of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, by Giorgio Bassani. The book starts with the family enjoying their property and wealth and ends with the family destroyed by the Nazis. In between, we have a love story and a peek into how a Jewish family in a small town might have experienced the rise of Nazi power in Italy.

A smaller percentage of the group than usual got through this book. The sentences were long, contained foreign words from several cultures and references to foreign locations, and often went off in tangential directions and returned before ending.

After Dennis gave us some background about the book, we questioned whether it was autobiographical, even though it is listed as fiction. It seemed to me that all the information pointed toward strong autobiographical influences. (1) The author wrote several other books about Jews in Ferraro, Italy. (2) The author married a woman he met playing tennis. (3) The prologue and epilogue seem like narrative from life. (4) The narrator, who we assume is Bassani, says that after all the years gone by since the war and since the events of the story, it's time to tell the story. (5) The narrator/main character of the story is referred to as Giorgio, the author's first name, at least once or twice in the book. Page number, anyone?

Dennis divided the story into 4 parts, each of which has a theme involving a question of "what if?" Part 1 begins where the prologue ends, with the tomb. Part 1 comprises 1929 to 1938. What if Giorgio had climbed the wall and gone into the garden? Part 2 starts in 1938, 2 months after the racial laws went into effect in Italy and ends when Micòl goes away. What if Giorgio had kissed her during that romantic moment in the carriage? Part 3 is the 4 years when Micòl was in Venice. What if Giorgio had visited her there? Part 4 is when Micòl is home but there is impending doom in the village, the world, and the relationship. What if there wasn't a war?

Our discussion focused on the love story and on the pre-Holocaust history. Cindy thought there wasn't enough detail about either the love story or how the Jews were affected by the racial laws. There was some indication that the love story was somewhat thwarted by the possibility of war and the more and more dismal outlook for the Jews' freedom. Patty noted that the contrast between the aristocracy and the middle class was a theme of both the love story and the attitude of the Jews toward the racial laws. The Finzi-Continis were aristocracy and also Jews. Janice thought that Micòl's rejection of Giorgio had little to do with Giorgio's social status and was because she just wasn't interested in him romantically. Joyce gave us some comic relief by saying that when Micòl stayed in Venice for 4 years, Giorgio should have "gotten the hint!"

The Finzi-Continis expected and received some extra respect for their social standing but not enough and were treated as Jews in a Nazi state rather than wealthy members of the community in the end. There was a feeling in this book that we have experienced with previous readings and discussions, that the individuals in the small town did not want to discriminate against the Finzi-Continis but were forced to do so by political pressure. Patty asked how many Jews from Italy were killed in the Holocaust. Marla Googled the question on the spot and found an answer of 48,000.

We did discuss Alberto's possible homosexual love for Malnate and Malnate's possible physical love with Micòl. The movie also cannot be ignored. Although Bassani supposedly did not accept the movie, it is probably rare for anyone to read the book without knowing about the movie. The movie stayed close to the book in many ways but also branched out and made assumptions. The book and movie are both part of the art that reflects the Holocaust.

2 comments:

Pam Fuchs said...

OK, so it's been a few weeks since Garden of Finzi Continis discussion... I never cleared the waitlist for the book so instead, watched the movie THREE times. I was convinced of what happened in the movie, then talked with those who read the book and found out they did not get the same thing from the book - so I chose not to attend and force my "movie only" opinion on anyone. But here it is now.

I agree with Patty that Micol was not EVER interested in Giorgio romantically, but actually was not interested in any man, expect her brother Alberto. The movie made a big deal in several scenes not only of them touching each other affectionately (too affectionately for their ages?) but also of brother Alberto wearing a big fluffy white robe - in several scenes. Then a scene where Alberto can't sleep, gets up and puts on his big fluffy white robe (again), looks out the window and sees Micol running across the lawn and the next scene is Giorgio seeing topless Micol sitting in bed next to a naked, sleeping man. Showing no emotion of any sort, she locks eyes with Giorgio and without losing her stare, reaches out and picks up a white fluffy object and throws it over the BLONDE man's private parts - THE ROBE. No doubt in my mind the screenplay intended for it to be an incestuous scene. Several others in our Club who saw the movie AND read the book say it was not her brother, but Maldonato, because Giorgio had seen Maldonato's bicycle at the wall. I don't disagree that was Maldonato's bicycle. However I suspected all along there was "something" between Micol and her brother.

Ultimately I googled the book (not the movie)and several writings mentioned "hint of incest between Micol and Alberto" (telegraph.co.uk. Another reference from imdb about the movie "Does cool, elusive, self-possessed Micol have an incestuous relationship (whether in thought or in deed) with her beloved, terminally ill brother Alberto? Is he homosexual? Is it by chance that Micol is reading Jean Cocteau ("he is chic") who deals with both gayness and incest?" Similar posting from google.books. ...At the very least I believe Micol was asexual. ...And thanks Joyce for the comment that Giorgio should "take a hint"; he seemed pathetic.

Thank you Dennis - for nominating something that caused me this much thought. ...Pam

ClaudiaH said...

Thanks, Pam. I watched the movie on my computer and it was very dark, literally - I couldn't see it very well. I did think it was Maldonato. I also thought Alberto was gay. Seems like these old movies handled these things in a much more subtle manner than movies today. They made it so that some folks would miss the implications, but if you noticed them, you enjoyed the movie more and got rewarded for your perspicacity. I don't know how many members will read these comments. Often seems that we could spend more than one meeting on many of our books!