Rilke once said -- ""There are no classes for beginners in life; the most difficult thing is always asked of one right away."" Bassani, using an actual classroom in a Liceo in Ferrara, subjects his then younger, now older, narrator to those most difficult things -- humiliation, betrayal and loss -- a life-time loss. From a well-born, protected Jewish home, Bassani's relatively innocent adolescent boy finds himself sharing a desk with Carlo Cattolica, superior in every worldly accomplishment who rather excludes him from his personal claque. After school he is impinged on by one Luciano Pulga, respectful if not servile although before long he feels very uneasy in Pulga's company as Pulga introduces him to prurient peephole and other sexual practices. Pulga is also a climber -- if necessary he will provide the dead bodies to climb over -- and before it's over, there will have been devastatingly cruel revelations with their enduring consequences, whatever their basis in truth or untruth. . . . This is Bassani's strongest book since The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and once again, if less so, nostalgia survives the foreclosure of a time gone by and even the bitterness (as against the sadness) of the earlier experience. It is a finely contained and composed short work filled with an authoritative realism that still permits a certain harmoniousness -- almost a dissonant quality in the world of today -- to prevail.