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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

My mother called mountain hiking “the devil’s idea of fun for his children,” and she always tried to stay home, above all when the outing included a meal, since after eating she loved to read the paper and then take a nap on a sofa indoors.

This is one of many places throughout the book that demonstrate the quirky lexicon that Ginzburg’s family has. The title of this book refers to the way that both families and close groups of people develop their own idiolect. These “families” share a vocabulary which creates a bond between its speakers. In this case, Ginzburg’s mother uses idiom to empathize with her children.

This quote is also important because it is an early indication of the differences between Ginzburg’s mother and father. Ginzburg’s father takes the children on difficult hikes, berating them the whole way. Her mother, however, understands that these hikes are not enjoyable for her children, but she is powerless to stop them. This highlights the unequal power balance between the mother and the father.

My father now called her “my poor little mother,” his tone full of affection and compassion, but when she was alive he’d always treated her as if she were a bit of a fool—much the same way he treated all of us. Now that she was dead her defects seemed innocent and childish, deserving of pity and sorrow.

This quote shows how emotionally volatile and cruel Ginzburg’s father is. Her paternal grandmother has died, and so the way that her father speaks about his mother has changed. Ginzburg shows, though, that the father’s underlying sentiment towards his mother has not changed: he has no respect for her. The reader can see the irony in how Ginzburg’s father speaks: he always holds additional meanings not indicated by his words.

My mother went out in the morning saying “I’m going to see if fascism is still on its feet. I am going to see if they’ve toppled Mussolini.”

This quote gives the reader insight into the mood of the era in which the book is set. At this point, Ginzburg’s family are anti-fascist at a time when it is dangerous to do so in Italy. Her father and brother are arrested, and one of her older brothers escapes to France to live in exile. This reported speech from the narrator’s mother shows that, even though there is very real danger and unrest, people continue to live their lives and have different ideas on the way events will unfold.

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