The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani (Penguin, 1992)
The Garden of the Finzi Continis is a richly evocative and nostalgic depiction of prewar Italy. The narrator, a young middle-class Jew in the Italian city of Ferrara, has long been fascinated from afar by the Finzi-Continis, a wealthy and aristocratic Jewish family, and especially by their charming daughter Micol. But it is not until 1938 that he is invited behind the walls of their lavish estate, as local Jews begin to gather there to avoid the racial laws of the Fascists, and the garden of the Finzi-Continis becomes a sort of idyllic sanctuary in an increasingly brutal world. Years later after the war, the narrator returns in memory to his doomed relationship with the lovely Micol, and to the predicament that faced all the Ferrarese Jews, in this unforgettably wrenching portrait of a community about to be destroyed by the world outside the garden walls.