Author of Finzi-Continis dies

Set in the years 1938 to 1942, the novel tells the story of the Finzi-Continis, an aristocratic Jewish family whose wealth and status blinds its members to the encroaching realities of fascism and World War II — until they are 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.

Also a poet, he won many top literary prizes and also was active in the environmental protection movement.

His final years were marked by a bitter, public feud over his estate between his estranged wife and his current companion, Portia Prebys.

His death came after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.