ROME, April 16 (JTA) – Italian Jewish author Giorgio Bassani, whose books describe the plight of Jews during the rise of fascism, died April 13 at the age of 84.
Bassani was best known for his 1962 novel, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” which was later made into a movie that won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1971.
“The memory of the great writer will remain alive in all of us,” Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema said in a message to the family. “The poetry and political commitment of his work place it among the most beautiful pages of 20th-century Italian literature.”
Set in the years 1938-1942, the novel told the story of the Finizi- Continis, an aristocratic Jewish family blinded by wealth and status to the encroaching realities of fascism and World War II until it was deported to Nazi death camps.
The impending tragedy is used as the backdrop for a love story between Giorgio, the son of a middle-class Jewish family, and Micol, the beautiful daughter of the Finzi-Continis.
“Bassani was the first, and perhaps the best, writer to talk about the condition of Italy’s Jews under the 1938 Racial Laws, which the Italian people had embraced with great indifference toward the Jews,” said Tullia Zevi, a former president of Italy’s Jewish community.
Bassani was born in 1916 in Bologna, but lived much of his life in Ferrara, a town near Venice with a long and rich Jewish history. He grew up there in an opulent villa that served as the model for the Finzi-Contini mansion.
Bassani was persecuted under the 1938 Racial Laws and had to publish his first works under a pseudonym. During World War II, he was jailed briefly for anti-fascist activities.
Bassani, who was also a poet, won many top literary prizes and also was active in the environmental protection movement.
His death came after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
His final years were marked by a bitter, public feud over his estate between his estranged wife and his current companion, the American Portia Prebys.