Family Sayings Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

While this book follows the author’s family during one of the most turbulent periods of Italian history, it is shared memories and the people who remember and tell them that is important to Ginzburg. Written from a perspective of one remembering long-past events, politics and world affairs are discussed briefly and only in terms of how they affected the Levis and their circle. Even Ginzburg’s condemnation of fascism and the Nazis is felt, not through a point-by-point description of oppression or war atrocities, but through her recounting of the feelings and experiences of her friends and relatives.

The book is filled with family discussions, word games, arguments, and reminiscences, and especially those recurring phrases and stories that make up the family sayings of the title. Each individual’s repeated pronouncements become part of the evocative language in the Levi lexicon, the special family code that creates a unique connection between its members—phrases that “would make one of us recognise another, in the darkness of a cave or among a million people.”

The technique of allowing her characters to speak for themselves is common to Ginzburg’s writing. Similarly, in Family Sayings, she is taciturn and generally nonjudgmental: Everyone, from Italy’s king to the family servant, is treated with the same attention and impartiality, and events are described in only a few paragraphs, without flourish or emotion. While she does record her early attempts at writing, her love of reading, and her later work as a writer and in literary publishing and translation, Ginzburg is chiefly an observer of other people; she says little about her inner life. Even personal tragedies are recorded in her minimalist style: “Leone was conducting a secret newspaper and was always out of the house. They arrested him twenty...

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