Join Date: Jan 2008
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Originally Posted by beppe
What a great idea! I second it. I would like so much to read an Italian book in the original language.
I nominate "Lessico Familiare" by Natalia Ginzburg. 1963. (Younger than me even). Kown as "What We Used to Say".
Lessico famigliare descrive dall'interno la vita quotidiana della famiglia Levi, dominata dalla figura del padre. Il libro è la cronaca ironico-affettuosa della famiglia dagli anni '20 ai primi anni '50, attraverso abitudini, comportamenti e soprattutto la comunicazione linguistica, da cui deriva il titolo. Figure ed eventi si avvicendano nella pagina senza ordine gerarchico e si presentano da sè, vivono attraverso i loro gesti e le loro parole. In questo libro si affrontano anche tutti i conflitti e le vicende della famiglia Levi. Importante è anche il personaggio della madre di Natalia,i fratelli anche loro in certi momenti sono nominati molto, soprattutto durante il mezzo del fascismo.
Il romanzo ripercorre vicende familiari cronologicamente legate soprattutto all'età fascista
e la seconda guerra mondiale
, quando vengono evocati l'uccisione del marito dell'autrice, Leone Ginzburg
, per attività politica antinazista, la persecuzione degli ebrei
, fino ad arrivare al suicidio di Cesare Pavese
e alla caduta delle illusioni della Resistenza
WHAT WE USED TO SAY (Lessico famigliare)
Novel by Natalia Ginzburg, 1963
What We Used to Say (1997; published in Italian in 1963 as Lessico famigliare and first translated into English as Family Sayings ) is Natalia Ginzburg's best-known and, in Italy, most venerated book. It is a memoir-novel about the home she grew up in during the period of ascendant Fascism, the Fascist dictatorship, her eccentric parents, defined to a great extent by her father's weird sayings that molded and characterized life in the household, the difficult life that her Jewish, academic father experienced during Fascism, the activities of her anti-Fascist brothers, the survival of the entire Levi family, and the melancholy that characterized Ginzburg's life and that of her parents—as eccentrics who did not attract a great amount of attention in pre-World War II northern Italy but who were fish out of water in post-World War II Italy. The final part of Ginzburg's novel renders a compelling portrait of the state of mind and soul of an active anti-Fascist and resistance fighter, the important writer Cesare Pavese, a transmitter to Italians of American literature and, with Ginzburg, one of the important editors at the publishing house of Einaudi, which published some of the most important novels of postwar Italian literature.
What We Used to Say is a loving testament to the benign life, in Ginzburg's view, that disappeared with World War II. It is a life that not only millions of Italian readers have identified with and continue to react positively to by buying Ginzburg's novel in high numbers but also one that has appealed so strongly to its readers in the English-speaking world that the first, defective translation, Familiar Sayings, was replaced by the second, far better translation in 1997, an event that seldom occurs with foreign literature in English translation. In the book Ginzburg furnishes the reader with a compelling, almost claustrophobic portrait—in spare and simple language, laced with the idiosyncracies of the Italian peculiar to Turin—of the domestic life the Levi household lived during this historically important period in Italian and world history, one particularly instructive about what it was to be a member of upper-middle-class, urban, and intellectual Jewish society during the period of the anti-Semitic, Fascist racial laws that marginalized the Jews of Italy.
Ginzburg's father was a professor of stature at the University of Turin. For his anti-Fascist statements and for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to Benito Mussolini and Fascism after the 1935 promulgation of the racial laws, Ginzburg's father was dismissed, as was Ginzburg's future husband, Leone, from his teaching position at the university. Ginzburg's father subsequently accepted a lesser position at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, in order to support his family. Fleeing the German advance after their invasion of Belgium, he was captured by the Germans and, without making any secret of his name and his being Jewish, fortunately released. Instead of following the suggestion by a German officer to return to Ghent, Ginzburg's father made his long and arduous way back to Italy, thereby surviving the Holocaust.
As was her husband, who paid for his resistance with his life, all Ginzburg's brothers were active anti-Fascists—in contrast to her father's anti-Fascism rants inside the Levi home after the family had hidden an active anti-Fascist Socialist while passage was being arranged for him to Switzerland. One of Ginzburg's brothers escaped capture after bringing anti-Fascist leaflets back from Switzerland. Her other brother returned to clandestine resistance after release from jail in Turin.
This side of life in the Levi family is described alongside the nearly banal events of the family's domestic and social life with their mostly Jewish friends, some of whom would disappear and never be seen again. Ginzburg describes the everyday and the nearly tragic side-by-side in a language that neither sentimentalizes her family nor surrenders to runaway emotionalism. What We Used to Say is one of the few pieces of Holocaust literature that tells the story of a family that survives the Holocaust, possibly because of its peculiar characters. Her sober, but not coldhearted, writing style and her dedication to a seemingly contradictory but artistically unique and successfully tempered realism are two of the particular features of What We Used to Say but also of her fiction in general that have won Ginzburg an international following and sales success each time her books have come out in Italy and when the ones translated into English have been published.
It is not the big historical events that loom large in Ginzburg's memoir-novel (almost maddeningly, she dedicates only a few lines to her husband's capture and murder shortly before the end of the war); rather, it is the tenacity of her family, the unexpected force that the members of the Levi family carry in themselves, that renders the strong portrait of the Levi family. Despite the eccentricity of the parents and their relations with everybody outside their home, What We Used to Say is an almost didactic novel about the unexpectedly ordered existence of the Levi family amid the disorder and randomness, at least for anti-Fascists, during one of the most momentous and tragic periods in twentieth-century history.
Although her novel proceeds in perfect chronological order, Ginzburg presents the events in her novel, one rife with dialog, in an a-traditional manner, and the power of her deceptively simple language virtually compels the reader's vicarious co-participation in her family's story and their experiences. Readers who find the first part of her novel disappoint-ingly short on action attest that they come to find her seemingly deceptively unassuming narrative fascinating in the end. Ginzburg's novel continues to engage readers and to win her new readers among the young. Whereas the figures in her wartime novel Tutti i nostri ieri ("All Our Yesterdays") are innocent pawns in the momentous historical drama of World War II, Ginzburg's family, these unique Levis—and she includes herself in the cast of strong players, even though she grants herself small space in her memoir-novel—are figures of strength, the opposite of the victims she presents in Tutti i nostri ieri. There is much in the way of old-fashioned personal virtues, devotion to family above all else, and compelling realism in What We Used to Say to account for its continued success.
—Robert B. Youngblood