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Bassani’s Father

In response to:

On 'The Garden of the Finzi-Continis' from the July 14, 2005 issue

To the Editors:

Tim Parks [“On ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,’” NYR, July 14] has Giorgio Bassani’s father rounded up and deported with other members of the Jewish community of Ferrara, but he wasn’t—as indeed “B“‘s father isn’t in the book. Romolo Valli, who plays this character, is deported at the end of De Sica’s film, but Bassani was indignant at this license, so much so indeed that he threatened to withdraw his name from the credits of the movie.

Masolino d’Amico

Rome, Italy

To the Editors:

In his article “On ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’” Tim Parks shows such ignorance of the Italian language that I fear for Bassani’s masterpiece in its new English edition, if Mr. Parks had anything to do with it aside from writing the introduction.

Mr. Parks translates the Italian title of Giorgio Bassani’s short story “Una lapide in Via Mazzini” as “A Plague in Via Mazzini.” Lapide, in Italian, means plaque, or memorial tablet. Nothing to do with the black death. For Mr. Parks’s sake, let’s hope it was a typo….

Yet, more serious is the blunder in his statement “the Finzi-Continis moved out of society altogether and began to cultivate what B’s father sees as absurd pretensions to nobility (the name Finzi-Contini in Italian actually suggests ‘fake little counts’).” Evidently, Mr. Parks doesn’t know the difference between the Italian word finti (fake, phoney) and the name of a prominent Italian Jewish family, the Finzi, whose origins can be traced back to the fourteenth century: a name that has no particular meaning in Italian (and was probably derived from the biblical Pineas).

Considering that Mr. Parks teaches and therefore most likely lives in Milan, what language does he speak there? Esperanto?

Anna Saxon-Forti

New York City

Tim Parks replies:

My thanks to the various people who have pointed out my mistake with regard to Bassani’s father. The error shows the dangers of accepting information from the Internet without cross-checking. The Web site has now been alerted.

And yes, “plague” should be “plaque.” Ms. Saxon-Forti is no doubt aware that this is a typographical error since the story begins with the appearance of the plaque on a wall in Ferrara. Again my apologies.

The question of the name Finzi-Contini is more interesting. Finzi is, of course, as Ms. Saxon-Forti suggests, the name of a well-known family. Like Contini, it is not an unusual name in Italy today. Putting the names together, however, is suggestive. “Finzi” can well evoke finzione, “a made-up story,” and is very near to finto, “fake,” of which the plural is finti. Contini does literally mean “little counts.” In Bassani’s novel the narrator’s father accuses the Finzi-Contini of aping the Italian aristocracy. Intrigued by all this, but being a cautious man, I spoke to colleagues at IULM University, Milan, about the connection. They all agreed that once the suggestion was made, it was hard to deny it was there.

If Ms. Saxon-Forti, whose own name would immediately alert the interpreting mind were it to appear in a novel, is still anxious about my competence in Italian, she can consult my many translations of Calvino, Calasso, Moravia, et al., or study one or two recent editorials in Corriere della Sera. Even after twenty-five years living and working in a language, there is always room for improvement and I do welcome comment from those eager to help.

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