Natalia Ginzburg is, after Elsa Morante, Italy’s most famous twentieth century woman writer. She was born in Palermo, where her father, Carlo Levi, was a professor of biology. Her family moved to Turin when she was three years old, when Levi was transferred to the university there. Ginzburg remained in Turin through her childhood and adolescence. The child of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Lidia Tanzi, Ginzburg was reared in a thoroughly Roman Catholic country without religious training or affiliation. An important consequence of this ambiguous status and the Fascist persecution of Jews in her youth was, according to Ginzburg, a lifelong sense of social isolation.
Ginzburg’s first story was “Un’assenza” (an absence), published in 1933, when she was seventeen. The subject, as in most of Ginzburg’s works, is the tragic failure of human relationships, especially relationships between men and women. This story appeared in the avant-garde Florentine journal Solaria in 1934, before her marriage in 1938 to Leone Ginzburg, a professor of Russian literature and an ardent anti-Fascist who had come to Italy in his childhood. From 1940 to 1943 the couple was in compulsory residence in a district of the Abruzzi. In 1943 Leone Ginzburg was arrested in Rome when working on a clandestine press and was turned over to the Germans; he died a year later in the prison infirmary.
Ginzburg’s first novel, The Road to the City appeared under the name “Alessandra Tornimparte” (since she was still in compulsory residence) and was published by Einaudi, a Turin firm for which she worked as an editorial consultant after her husband’s death in order to support her three children. Though she married Gabriele Baldini, a professor of English literature at the University of Rome, in...
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