Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In the preface to this autobiographical/biographical work, the author makes an unusual request of her readers. While the events depicted are true and the individuals are real, Natalia Ginzburg asks that the book be read as a novel. In her reasoning, she cites the treachery of memory and records that come from a single point of view. Yet this personal family portrait, which begins with Ginzburg’s remembrances of her solitary childhood and ends in 1950 after her second marriage, is more an autobiography than a novel. While following a generally linear time line, the author moves back and forth between historical events—the rise of fascism, World War II and the German occupation of Italy, and the privations of the postwar years—and her family memories. Stories about Ginzburg’s parents and details of daily life are woven together with vignettes about relatives, friends, socialist and antifascist activists, and servants. Characters are called by their true names and, as in life, appear and disappear without regard for the conventions of a fictional plot.

The book opens at the family dinner table, as the author’s stormy, impatient father thunders his disapproval of his children’s table manners. The author’s parents, Giu-seppe and Lydia Levi, and their five children, of which Natalia was the youngest, were socialists and, after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took power, antifascists.

Her family members knew many political leaders in...

(The entire section is 554 words.)