Reviews by ROBERT RUB ENS
THE GARDEN OF THE F1NZI-CONTINIS, by Giorgio Bassani (Faber and Faber, 21s.). THE ORDWAYS, by William Humphrey (Chatto and Windus, 25s.). BOLD JOHN HENEBRY, by Ellis Dillon (Faber and Faber, 21s.).
den. The narrator, a young student of literature. gradually gets to know them and falls in love with the daughter, Miebl.
His relationship with her and the family • slowly evolves under a cloud of impending disaster. Micol is a clever, romantic and elusive young woman who is writing her thesis on Emily Dickinson. "Alas, poor Emily." she writes in a letter to the narrator. "See what compensations poor wretched spinsterhood is forced to!"
Both she and the narrator are deeply aware of the transience of their lives and of the rapid disintegration of the society in which they have grown up. When the racial restrictions arc imposed on Ferrara, the Jews are made to leave the local tennis club. It is then that the narrator and Malnate, another -young intellectual, begin spending long days around the tennis courts at the Finzi-Continis.
Within the enclosed boundaries of the garden we are given an intimate glimpse of a pocket of Italian-Jewish society which was highly assimilated yet always aware of its isolation. As they move towards the fatal day, their conversations reiterate the conflict of ideal* which is inherent in the novel: Malnate's belief in a democratic Communist future as opposed to Micol's fatalism.
She knows what the future holds for her family, and she
prefers "le vierge, le vivuce et k he! aujourd 'hiti, and the past even more, the dear, the sweet, the pious past."
In 1942 Micbl's 'brother Alberto dies of malignant lym phograntdoma. A year later the family—Professor Erman°, Signora Olga, MicOl and the did
grandmother, Signora Regina— are sent to the concentration Camp at Fossoli, near Capri, where they remain until they are shipped to Germany.
Bassani is a skilled craftsman who knows when to shift his emphasis from the sorrows of first love to the political pressures of the time. In an excel lent translation by Isabel Quigly one has the full flavour of this haunting novel.
The Ordways by William Humphrey is also the story of a family rooted in their past, but presented on a much broader canvas. Unlike the Finzi-Continis, the Ordways arc raw and resilient. After the Civil War they move from Tennessee to Texas. and we follow their wanderings until they put down roots in a town called Clarksville.
The first section of the novel is concerned with the narrator's
great-grandfather, Thomas Ord way. A deep-seeded Southerner who was badly wounded in the war. he remains a "lost veteran of a lost cause". His children and grandchildren grow up with his legacy of Southern pride and the sense of having been transplanted.
It is not until the second section that the book becomes more than a family chronicle. In his study of Sam and Hester Ordway (the narrator's grandparents) Mr. Humphrey tells a moving story of a shy, gentle man who is stirred into action by the kidnapping of his son, Ned.
Little Ned, the child of Sam's first wife Agatha, who died in childbirth. becomes the source of much of the conflict between Sam and Hester: It was little Ned who from the. start was the thorn in
Rester's side . . . he was a living reminder of his mother's martyrdom.
. . . She ached for a child of her own. It was as if she felt challenged to emulate the dead Agatha, to pass through the same trial, ached for the pain itself as for a purifying 'lame to test and demonstrate her love . . .
The story of Sam and Hester and the search for Ned is essentially a poignant one, and some of its pathos is weakened under the weighty chronicling of the Ordway's history. But without resorting to nostalgia, Mr. Humphrey • shows a compassionate understanding of the Southerner's tenacious pride and his love of the past.
Bold John Henebry by Filis Dillon is another family saga. Set in Ireland at the turn of the century, it recounts the career of a poor boy from Cork who becomes a prominent business man in Dublin.
Written with vigour and intelligence. Dillon's hero is an endearing opportunist with a degree of moral fibre and patriotism. This rags-to-riches tale also gives an admirable picture of the political ferment in Ireland at about 1900.
Also noted for June:
The Rose in the Brandy Glass by Jon Manchip White is a study of an elderly retired colonel and a legal controversy which temporarily disrupts his life. Good on social detail, but the colonel's loneline4 and moral dilemma are not eufficiently developed. (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 21s.).
Summer's Tales, edited by Kylie Tennant, is an undistinguished collection of Australian short stories which does, however, include one splendid piece by Hal Porter called "Boy Meets Girl": a very funny slice of Melbourne life in the 1930s.