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Books by Natalia Ginzburg

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Natalia Ginzburg, arguably the most important woman writer of postwar Italy, always spoke of herself with irrepressible modesty. The woman who claimed she “never managed to climb up mountains” in fact wrote the history of twentieth-century Italy through more than twenty books, chronicling fascism, war, and the German occupation as well as the intimacies of family life. Ginzburg’s stories, based in the small town of her childhood or set in Italy’s cities, established her as a prolific and superb writer, and her husband’s antifascist activities (which led ultimately to his torture and death at the hands of the Nazis) placed her squarely in the center of Italy’s turbulent political arena.

Intensely reserved, Ginzburg said that she “crept toward autobiography stealthily like a wolf.” But she did openly discuss her life and her work in an extraordinary series of interviews for Italian radio in 1990. Never before published in English, It’s Hard to Talk about Yourself presents a vivid portrait of Ginzburg, in her own words, on the forces that shaped her remarkable life–politics, publishing, writing, literary influences, and her family. Transcribed and lightly edited by her close friend Cesare Garboli and her granddaughter Lisa Ginzburg, these interviews will join Ginzburg’s autobiography, Family Sayings, as one of the most important records of her life, and, as the editors write in their preface, “the last, unexpected, original book by Natalia Ginzburg.”

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1991) wrote novels, short stories, poems, plays, and essays and translated Proust and Flaubert. In 1983, she was elected to the Italian Parliament, where she served almost until her death. Among her many books are The Road to the City: Two Novellas (1942), Valentino (1957), Family Sayings (1963), Never Must You Ask Me (1970), and The Manzoni Family (1983).

“Natalia Ginzburg’s simple, yet poetic narrative, with its often conversational tone is one of the most distinctive of literary styles. At times, the brevity and concision of her sentences were attributed to the influence of Hemingway, at others to that of Gertrude Stein. But, all said and done, whatever Natalia Ginzburg wrote, it was, simply, sui generis.”–The Independent (London)

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Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome: Ignazio Silone, Giorgio Bassani, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Carlo Levi, Carlo Emilio Gadda

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and Alberto Moravia, Carlo Levi, Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani

William Weaver (Editor), Kristina Olson (Editor)

Traddutore, traditore, goes the old Italian proverb: To translate is to betray. But William Weaver, who has assembled a fine anthology of contemporary Italian prose in Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome, is anything but treacherous toward his favorites. For one thing, he is our preeminent translator from that euphonious, vowel-encrusted language, and anybody who reads his elegant versions of Italo Calvino or Umberto Eco will recognize what a great service he has performed to these high-wire stylists–not to mention their readers.

But as Weaver’s preface-cum-memoir makes clear, he is not merely a linguistic loyalist. During the late 1940s and ’50s, when the young translator lived in Rome, he got to know all the contributors to Open City: Ignazio Silone, Giorgio Bassani, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Carlo Levi, and Carlo Emiliano Gadda. This anthology, then, is a peculiarly personal one, in which the editor exposes us to both the art and life of each author. It necessarily excludes such giants as Primo Levi, Leonardo Sciascia, and Calvino, none of whom happened to cross Weaver’s path during his dolce vita phase. But the septet he has assembled is a splendid one, which suggests that the Eternal City was some kind of literary hot spot in the wake of the Second World War.

Gadda undoubtedly wins the crown for sheer stylistic extravagance. The excerpt Weaver has chosen from That Awful Mess on Via Merulana gives a vivid sense of the challenges (and rewards!) of that macaronic masterpiece. (It also includes some of the best portraiture of Rome itself, “lying as if on a map or scale model: it smoked slightly, at Porta San Paolo: a clear proximity of infinite thoughts and palaces, which the north wind had cleansed.”) At the opposite end of the spectrum is Natalia Ginzburg, whose antirhetorical style still makes most contemporary novelists sound crude and inflationary, especially when it comes to minute discriminations of feeling. And in between, we find such marvels as Moravia’s “Agostino” (a cruelly accurate account of childhood’s end), Morante’s “The Nameless One,” and an excerpt from Carlo Levi’s The Watch, which dispenses its wisdom casually but hits the bull’s-eye every time:

The world holds us with a thousand ties of habit, work, inertia, affections. It’s difficult and painful to separate from them. But as soon as a foot rests on a train, airplane, or automobile that will carry us away, everything disappears, the past becomes remote and is buried, a new time crowded to the brim with unknown promises envelopes us and, entirely free and anonymous, we look around searching for new companions.

Weaver’s memoir is primarily an elegy for his “lost, open city” and those writers with whom he inhabited it–all but Bassani have died during the succeeding decades. As such, it includes an unmistakable hint of melancholy. But it manages to convey the excitement of the era, too–and the words that Weaver’s companions committed to paper are, as Open City demonstrates, very much alive.

Le piccole virtù (Italian Edition)

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«In ogni pagina di questo libro c’è il modo di essere donna [di Natalia Ginzburg]: un modo spesso dolente ma sempre pratico e quasi brusco, in mezzo ai dolori e alle gioie della vita… Tra i capitoli del volume si ricorda Ritratto d’un amico, certo la piú bella cosa che sia stata scritta sull’uomo Cesare Pavese. E le pagine scritte subito dopo la guerra, che riportano con una forza piú che mai struggente il senso dell’esperienza d’anni terribili (e sanno pur farlo, serbando, come Le scarpe rotte , un quasi miracoloso senso del comico). Poi, le prove (come Silenzio e Le piccole virtú ) d’una Natalia Ginzburg moralista, dove una partecipazione acuta ai mali del secolo sembra nascere dalla matrice d’un calore familiare. E soprattutto, perfetto capitolo d’una autobiografia in chiave obiettiva e ironica, Lui e io, in cui la contrapposizione dei caratteri si trasforma, da spunto di commedia, nel piú affettuoso poema della vita coniugale». Italo Calvino

Lessico famigliare (Italian Edition)

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Lessico famigliare è il libro di Natalia Ginzburg che ha avuto maggiori e piú duraturi riflessi nella critica e nei lettori. La chiave di questo straordinario romanzo è delineata già nel titolo. Famigliare, perché racconta la storia di una famiglia ebraica e antifascista, i Levi, a Torino tra gli anni Trenta e i Cinquanta del Novecento. E Lessico perché le strade della memoria passano attraverso il ricordo di frasi, modi di dire, espressioni gergali. Scrive la Ginzburg: «Noi siamo cinque fratelli. Abitiamo in città diverse, alcuni di noi stanno all’estero: e non ci scriviamo spesso. Quando c’incontriamo, possiamo essere, l’uno con l’altro, indifferenti, o distratti. Ma basta, fra noi, una parola. Basta una parola, una frase, una di quelle frasi antiche, sentite e ripetute infinite volte, nel tempo della nostra infanzia. Ci basta dire “Non siamo venuti a Bergamo per fare campagna” o “De cosa spussa l’acido cloridrico”, per ritrovare a un tratto i nostri antichi rapporti, e la nostra infanzia e giovinezza, legata indissolubilmente a quelle frasi, a quelle parole». In appendice la Cronistoria di Lessico famigliare a cura di Domenico Scarpa e uno scritto di Cesare Garboli.