A Family Lexicon

Natalia Ginzburg, trans. from the Italian by Jenny McPhee. New York Review Books, $14.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-59017-838-6
The lore of her large, loving, and discordant family provides rich material for Ginzburg’s engrossing autobiographical novel, covering the years of the Italian writer’s childhood in 1920s Italy, her adolescence, first marriage, World War II, and her involvement in postwar literary society. As a child growing up in a Turin apartment, the narrator is a frequent witness to conflict: her scientist father’s “sudden outbursts” and the “fights between Alberto and Mario,” two older brothers; outside the home, fascism strengthens its hold on Italy. Yet Ginzberg’s focus on the fascinating peculiarities of her milieu remains. Another brother, Gino, shares their father’s love of mountain hiking and represents a “plausible,” scientific way of life, while Paola, a beautiful older sister, prefers Pirandello, Proust, and Verlaine, as does their mother, an optimist whose “curiosity never let her reject anything.” As the political situation worsens, the family offers refuge to a prominent socialist, and Ginzberg’s father, who is Jewish, is briefly imprisoned, returning with dirty laundry and a long beard, apparently proud of his adventure. The siblings age, migrate, and marry, and the canon of sayings and quotations borrowed from old friends and long-dead relatives becomes their everlasting shared inheritance: “evidence of a vital core that has ceased to exist, but lives on in its texts, saved from the fury of the waters, the corrosion of time.” (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/13/2017
Release date: 07/21/2015
Genre: Fiction
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