Ginzburg, Natalia 1916–1991

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Ginzburg, Natalia 1916–1991

(Alessandra Tornimparte)

PERSONAL: Born July 14 (one source says July 5), 1916, in Palermo, Italy; died October 7 (one source says October 8), 1991; daughter of Carlo (a novelist and professor of biology) and Lidia (Tanzi) Levi; married Leone Ginzburg (an editor and political activist), 1938 (died, 1944); married Gabriele Baldini, 1950.

CAREER: Novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and essayist. Worked for Einaudi (publisher), Turin, Italy. Elected representative of Independent Left Party, Parliament of Italy, 1983.

AWARDS, HONORS: Strega prize, 1964, for Lessico famigliare; Marzotto Prize for European drama, 1968, for The Advertisement; Milan Club Degli Editori award, 1969; Bagutto award, 1984; Ernest Hemingway Prize, 1985.


(Under pseudonym Alessandra Tournimparte) La strada che va in citta (two short novels), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1942, reprinted under own name, 1975, translation by Frances Frenaye published under own name as The Road to the City (contains "The Road to the City" and "The Dry Heart"), Double-day (New York, NY), 1949.

E stato cosi, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1947, reprinted, 1974.

Valentino (novella; also see below), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1951.

Tutti i nostri ieri (novel), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1952, translation by Angus Davidson published as A Light for Fools, Dutton (New York, NY), 1956, translation published as Dead Yesterdays, Secker & War-burg^, 1956.

(With Giansiro Ferrata) Romanzi del 900, Ediziono Radio Italiana (Turin, Italy), 1957.

Sagittario (novella; also see below), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1957, translation published as Sagittarius, 1975.

Le voci della sera, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1961, new edition edited by Sergio Pacilici, Random House (New York, NY), 1971, translation by D.M. Low published as Voices in the Evening, Dutton (New York, NY), 1963.

Le piccole virtu (essays), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1962, translation by Dick Davis published as The Little Virtues, Seaver Books, 1986.

Lessico famigliare (novel), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1963, translation by D.M. Low published as Family Sayings, Dutton (New York, NY), 1967, translation by Judith Woolf published as The Things We Used to Say, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1997, Arcade Pub. (New York, NY), 1999.

Cinque romanzi brevi (short novels and short stories), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1964.

Ti ho sposato per allegria (plays), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1966.

The Advertisement (play; translation by Henry Reed first produced in London at Old Vic Theatre, September 24, 1968), Faber^, 1969.

Teresa (play), [Paris, France], 1970.

Mai devi domandarmi (essays), Garzanti (Milan, Italy) 1970, translation by Isabel Quigly published as Never Must You Ask Me, M. Joseph^, 1973.

Caro Michele (novel), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1973, translation by Sheila Cudahy published as No Way, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1974, published as Dear Michael, P. Owen^, 1975.

Paese di mare e altre commedie, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1973.

Vita immaginaria (essays), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1974.

Famiglia (contains novellas "Borghesia" and "Famiglia"), 1977, translation by Beryl Stockman published as Family, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.

La citte e la casa, 1984, translation by Davis published as The City and the House, Seaver Books, 1987.

All Our Yesterdays, translation by Angus Davidson, Carcanet, 1985.

The Manzoni Family, translation by Marie Evans, Seaver Books, 1987.

Valentino and Sagittarius, translation by Avril Bardoni, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.

E difficile parlare di se, edited by Cesare Garboli and Lisa Ginzburg, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1999, translated by Louise Quirke and published as It's Hard to Talk about Yourself, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2003.

Non possiamo saperlo: saggi 1973–1990, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 2001.

Opere, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 2001.

A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays, edited and translated by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of Fragola e panna, 1966, La segretaria, 1967, and "I Married You for the Fun of It," 1972.

SIDELIGHTS: Natalia Ginzburg remains one of the best-known post-war Italian writers. Her cool, controlled, simple style of writing has continued to impress critics, while her intimate explorations of domestic life have been praised for their authenticity and concern for traditional values. Annapaola Concogni, writing in the New York Times Book Review, explained that Ginzburg possessed an "ear tuned in to the subtlest frequencies of domestic life, its accents, its gestures, its ups and downs and constant contradictions." In her introduction to Ginzberg's Never Must You Ask Me, Isabel Quigly compared Ginzburg to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, finding that, when reading Ginzburg's fiction, "Inevitably, Chekhov comes to mind: not only because the long summer days, the endless agreeable but unrewarding chat, the whole provincial-intellectual set-up, recall him, but because the Italian charm, and volatility, and loquacity, and unselfconscious egocentricity, and inability to move out of grooves, and so on, that Miss Ginzburg so brilliantly captures, are all Chekhovian qualities."

Other reviewers were critical of Ginzburg's method of characterization. In the Saturday Review, Thomas G. Bergin wrote that the characters in Voices in the Evening "are, for the most part, like excellent line drawings, quite real but somehow not 'filled in.' Their bone structure is magnificent, but there is no flesh." And although Otis K. Burger found the same novel to be "crisp, brittle, entertaining, and informative" in his review for the New York Times, he also remarked that "the very coolness of the style tends to defeat the subtle theme of the death of a family (and a love) through sheer lack of gumption. The brevity of the book and its semicomic treatment of a muted tragedy come to seem, not a strength but part of the general, fatal weariness. The 'voices in the evening' tend to cancel each other out—succeeding only too well in presenting people who, pallid to begin with, end as mere phantoms."

Although Ginzberg's Family Sayings is on the surface a simple family tale, what is beneath and between the lines reveals the weight and worth of the novel. In a review for the New Leader, Raymond Rosenthal wrote that "what started as a simple family chronicle takes on the timeless, magnificent aspect of an ancient tale, a Homeric saga. It is magical, exhilarating. In the last pages, after all is accomplished and the deaths, the bereavements, the terrible losses of war and social struggle have been counted up, so to speak, the mere fact that Natalia's mother is still telling the same old stories, and that her father—the counter-muse, the rationalistic ogre—is still there to provide the antiphonic accompaniment of grumbles and complaints, becomes mythical in the truest sense. The surface of this book is also its depths."

In London Magazine, Gavin Ewart also praised Family Sayings. The book exhibits, Ewart noted, "a simple, distilled style, a reliance on the virtues of repetition, an awareness of the ridiculousness of human beings; a great love (reading between the lines) for both her father and her mother; the shadow of Proust. All these are in it. Dealing with more 'tragic' material, it has the control and the only slightly edited reality that one finds in My Life and Hard Times (remember Thurber?). Though this is verbal comedy and not farce, it still seems, like that masterpiece, to imply that life can be terrible, but also terribly funny."

No Way concerns Michael, a young revolutionary living in a basement apartment. Ginzburg develops the relationships between Michael and his friends through letters (most of which are written to Michael, few of which he answers). "While Michael is expending what turn out to be his last days," Martin Levin commented in the New York Times Book Review, "his father dies, his girlfriend Mara runs through a half dozen patrons, and his mother is jilted by her lover Philip. All of these relationships are assembled by epistolary connections that have the intricacy and the fragility of an ant city. The wit is mordant and comes directly out of paradox." "What makes this book so wonderful," In a New Yorker review L.E. Sissman declared: "magical even—is that we are never bored by the imprisoned pacings and abor-tive flights of its people. They all become real and individual and fascinating through the technical gifts of the author…. No Way is a novel of the curdling of aspirations and the enfeebling of powers among those who heretofore held sway. Its quality lies in its reportorial accuracy, in its fine, warm, rueful equanimity, in its balance in the face of toppling worlds. It is a most remarkable book."

Writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Peter Brunette praised Ginzberg's body of work, calling her "the undisputed doyenne of contemporary Italian letters. Both a successful playwright and essayist, she has also become, through a steady outpouring of quietly memorable fiction … a world-class novelist."



Bullock, Alan, Natalia Ginzburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 54, 1989.


Commonweal, December 4, 1992.

Library Journal, November 1, 2003, Valeda Frances Dent, review of It's Hard to Talk about Yourself, p. 82.

London Magazine, May, 1967.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1987.

New Leader, March 13, 1967.

New Republic, September 14, 1974.

New Yorker, October 21, 1974.

New York Review of Books, January 23, 1975.

New York Times, January 5, 1957; October 6, 1963.

New York Times Book Review, September 1, 1974; June 26, 1988.

Saturday Review, September 21, 1963.

Spectator, August 24, 1956.

Times Literary Supplement, February 5, 1971; April 13, 1973; June 15, 1973; February 21, 1975; March 28, 1975; June 2, 1978.

World Literature Today, August, 1991.



Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1991, p. 12, sec. 3.

Current Biography, November, 1991, p. 59.

Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1991, p. A34.

New York Times, October 9, 1991, p. D24.

Time, October 21, 1991, p. 79.

Times (London, England), October 9, 1991, p. 20.

Washington Post, October 10, 1991, p. C4.