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GINZBURG, Natalia

Pseudonym: Alessandra Tournimparte. Nationality: Italian. Born: Natalia Levi, Palermo, 14 July 1916. Education: University of Turin, 1935. Family: Married 1) Leone Ginzburg in 1938 (died 1944), two daughters; 2) Gabriele Baldini in 1950 (died 1969). Career: Editorial consultant, Einaudi Publishing Company, Rome, 1944, and Turin, 1945-49; worked in the publishing business during the 1950s; lived in London, 1959-61; elected to the Italian parliament as independent left-wing deputy, 1983. Awards: Viareggio prize, 1957, for Valentino; 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. Died: 7 October 1991.

Publications

Collection

Opere [Works]:

Opere: Volume primo. 1986.

Opere: Volume secondo. 1987.

Novels

La strada che va in citta (as Alessandra Tournimparte). 1942; with additional stories, as La strada che va in cittá, e altri racconti, 1945; first edition translated as The Road to the City: Two Novelettes, 1949.

E stato cosi [The Dry Heart]. 1947.

Valentino (novella). 1951; translated as Valentino and published with Sagittarius as Valentino and Sagittarius: Two Novellas, 1987.

Tutti i nostri ieri. 1952; as A Light for Fools, 1956; as Dead Yesterdays, 1956; as All Our Yesterdays, 1985.

Sagittario (novella). 1957; translated as Sagittarius and published with Valentino as Valentino and Sagittarius: Two Novellas, 1987.

Le voci della sera. 1961; as Voices in the Evening, 1963.

Lessico famigliare. 1963; as Family Sayings, 1967; as What We Used to Say, 1997.

Cinque romanzi brevi (selections). 1964; with additional stories, as Cinque romanzi brevi, e altri racconti, 1993; first edition translated as Valentino and Sagittarius: Two Novellas, 1987.

Caro Michele. 1973; as No Way, 1974; as Dear Michael, 1975.

Famiglia (two novellas). 1977; as Family: Two Novellas, 1988.

La citte e la casa. 1984; as The City and the House, 1986.

Plays

Ti ho sposato per allegria [I Married You for the Fun of It].1966.

L'inserzione; translated as The Advertisement (produced London, 1968). 1969.

Paese di mare e altre commedie. 1973.

L'intervista: Commedia in tre atti. 1989.

Other

Romanzi del 900, with Giansiro Ferrata. 1956.

La famiglia Manzoni (biography). 1983; as The Manzoni Family, 1987.

Le piccole virtu (essays). 1962; as The Little Virtues, 1985.

Mai devi domandarmi (essays). 1970; as Never Must You Ask Me, 1973.

Vita immaginaria (essays). 1974.

Serena Cruz, o la vera giustizia [Serena Cruz, or True Justice].1990.

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Bibliography:

"A Bibliography of the Writings of Natalia Ginzburg" by Cathe Giffuni, in Bulletin of Bibliography, 50(2), June 1993, pp. 139-44.

Critical Studies:

Women in Modern Italian Literature: Four Studies Based on the Work of Grazia Deledda, Alba De Céspedes, Natalia Ginzburg, and Dacia Maraini by Bruce Merry, 1990; Natalia Ginzburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World by Alan Bullock, 1991; "Natalia Ginzburg," in Salmagundi, 96, Fall 1992, pp. 52-167; "Natalia Ginzburg: Bonded and Separating Narrator-Daughters and the Maternal in Sagittario " by Teresa L. Picarazzi, in Nemla Italian Studies, 17, 1993, pp. 91-105; "Anchoring Natalia Ginzburg" by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, in Kenyon Review, 16(1), Winter 1994, pp. 115-30; "Silent Witness: Memory and Omission in Natalia Ginzburg's Family Sayings" by Judith Woolf, in Cambridge Quarterly (England), 25(3), 1996, pp. 243-62; "Racial Laws and Internment in Natalia Ginzburg's La strada che va in citta and Tutti i nostri ieri " by Claudia Nocentini, in The Italian Jewish Experience, edited by Thomas P. DiNapoli, 2000; Natalia Ginzburg: A Biography by Maja Pflug, translated by Sian Williams, 2000; Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, edited by Angela M. Jeannet and Giuliana Sanguinetti Katz, 2000.

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Born Natalia Levi in Palermo, Sicily, in 1916, where her father taught anatomy at the university, the future Natalia Ginzburg grew up in the geographic and cultural antipode of Turin. Her family had moved to the northern Italian city, a city with a significant Jewish population (home also to the two important and nonrelated Jewish Italian authors, Carlo and Primo Levi , as it was to Cesare Pavese, who was later to be an important coeditor with Ginzburg at the prestigious publishing house of Giulio Einaudi), because her father had been offered a professorship at that prestigious and progressive university. Natalia grew up in a secular and nonobservant home, but their being Jewish, according to the Fascist racial laws of 1938, would have a profound effect on the male members of her family and on the life of her husband Leone, with Antonio Gramsci one of the most active and renowned anti-Fascist Italian intellectuals.

In the year the racial laws were promulgated Natalia met and married Leone Ginzburg, a Jewish Russian who had spent the summers of his youth in Italy (it has just recently been learned that he was the illegitimate child of his Russian mother and her Italian lover) and, after completing his university studies, was offered a lectureship in Russian literature at the University of Turin. Because Leone refused to swear allegiance to Fascism and because he was a non-Italian, he was dismissed from his lectureship. Following his dismissal, Leone began his activity as writer for and editor of anti-Fascist publications, which generated his reputation and kept him under the perpetual watch of the Fascists. With Italy's declaration of war on France and Great Britain, Leone was picked up by the Fascist police and sent into internal exile (as was Carlo Levi, who used his exile experiences in his classic novel Cristo si é fermato a Eboli [ Christ Stopped at Eboli ]) to a village in the then backward south—in Leone's case to the central province of the Abruzzi east of Rome, in Levi's case to Basilicata in the instep of "the boot of Italy."

Natalia, now a mother of two daughters, joined her husband in exile and made transmogrified autobiographical use of their life in the Abruzzi for her wartime novel Tutti i nostri ieri ("All Our Yesterdays"). Though their life was harsh and poor and the region was fairly Fascist, the inhabitants of the region expected the area to improve under the Fascist government, and the Ginzburg family managed to survive at the common village level and to be fairly well accepted in their village of Pizzoli, not far from the capital of L'Acquila. Natalia repaid the sympathy shown to her, her husband, and her family in Tutti i nostri ieri, which she published under her married name. (She had already, because of the racial laws, published two books under a pseudonym.) Criticism has been leveled against Natalia for using the Ginzburg family name rather than her maiden name because she remarried after Leone's death and because of his high martyr status as anti-Fascist. Tutti i nostri ieri is the only novel (in the second of the three parts) in which World War II figures in Natalia's writing. In the sober, seemingly unemotional realism she became famous for, she renders a gripping portrait of a human configuration of Jews, Fascist and non-Fascist Italians, and an initially sympathetic young German soldier in the small Abruzzi town in which the second part of her novel takes place. Things will turn tragic when the young German discovers that a Jew is being hidden in the house that is the setting for the book (human life in the interiors of homes is one of the distinctive qualities of Natalia's writing). The German returns to being a Wehrmacht soldier and is unwillingly killed, and the event is used by the Germans to execute a number of male civilian "enemies." Typical of her sober acceptance of death, Natalia, a narrator, does not shed emotional tears over the execution in Tutti i nostri ieri but moves the novel along to the ensuing series of events.

Leone becomes a heroic anti-Fascist martyr by leaving the relative security of the village of his exile in the Abruzzi and returning to Rome after the deposition of Benito Mussolini in order to resume his anti-Fascist publishing. Natalia and her two daughters followed Leone to Rome, ironically being offered passage and being driven to the outskirts of the city by retreating German soldiers after their defeat at Monte Cassino en route to occupy Rome. Leone's printing shop in Rome was discovered three weeks after his resumption of publishing, and he was taken to the infamous Regina Coeli prison. Natalia never saw Leone again and only later learned the circumstances of his death from a fellow prisoner. After initial beatings by Italian Fascists, Leone was turned over to the Gestapo and tortured. He was found dead in his cell in 1944, tragically not long before the German retreat from Rome.

After the armistice between the Germans and the Allies, Natalia returned home to Turin—indirectly via Florence because of the military situation—and began her work as editor at the head office of the Einaudi publishing house. In 1950 she married her second husband, Gabriele Baldini, a professor of English at the University of Trieste. He continued to teach in Trieste, and she lived and worked in Turin.

When, in 1950, her husband was offered a professorship in Rome, Natalia joined Baldini to live and work in the Rome office of Einaudi. In 1959 Baldini was appointed director of the Italian Cultural Institute in London, so Natalia lived with him there for two years, returning to Rome in 1961 and spending the remainder of her life in the capital. Baldini died in 1969, leaving Natalia a widow for the second time.

Natalia not only continued to publish a series of novels after her first one in 1942 but she also became the successful author of quite a few light theater pieces as well as an essayist. She became active in politics mostly because political figures urged her to because of her fame as a writer and because of her well-known work on behalf of and advocacy for the rights of abused, orphaned, and neglected children. She allowed herself to be a candidate for a coalition of independent left-wing parties and served two terms in the Italian Parliament. Held in high esteem after her terms in Parliament and for her prizewinning and popular novels translated into many languages, she was sought out by interviewers and called on by writers from abroad. She died relatively peacefully, a very public figure, in Rome in 1991.

—Robert B. Youngblood

See the essay on What We Used to Say.

Ginzburg, Natalia

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