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Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg

Family Lexicon (1963)

by Natalia Ginzburg

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (6)  Italian (4)  Spanish (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Family Sayings is Ginzburg’s memoir of growing up in a large, quirky family in the pre-WWII years and the family’s experiences during and after the war. Most of the time, the focus is not on her, the narrator, but her parents, siblings, their friends, and their partners. It’s very detailed, intimate, and amusing, with the inside jokes and references frequently popping up to provide a good characterization of all the friends and relatives who people the book. When the war starts, everything becomes more difficult, but even with some close calls, the family mainly stays the same – her father grumbles, the siblings fight and marry and complain. However, when serious things do happen, there’s a kind of distance in Ginzburg’s descriptions – she’ll matter-of-factly state that someone’s parents were transported off, never to return, and never elaborates on her husband’s death – the only in-depth descriptions are a couple of her experiences before and after. It’s very effective at bringing attention to these incidents with the contrast in narrative style, as well as showing how even large losses give way to the rhythm of daily life.

Her father looms large over the first half of the book. He is amusing to read about, but would likely be difficult to live with – a constantly complaining, constantly criticizing man who is sure that there is only one right way to do things. He loves mountain climbing and makes everyone else participate, but it has to be done his way. He likes and dislikes people for random reasons, plays favorites with his children, and has various obsessions. The narrator’s mother is more conciliatory and, like everyone else, she has her sayings and memories that have become part of the family lore – the opera that she started when she was a girl, the few memories of a brother who committed suicide, how every previous house was better than the one they live in now. All the narrator’s siblings are introduced – Gino, the golden boy who is the favorite due to his intelligence and love of mountaineering, Paola and Mario, both romantic, emotional, and addicted to literature and poetry (and constantly engaging in a silent war with their father), and Alberto, the sports-obsessed son who also manages to incur the disapproval of his father and mother. While her father and mother differ in personality, both are committed to socialism and various leftist politicians visit during the narrator’s childhood. Friends and romantic partners are also described in detail.

Even though all the sons get into trouble early on in the war years – arrests or exile – nothing seems serious at first. Natalia’s mother sighs when the excitement is over and her father still does the same complaining and laughing. But the situation gradually becomes worse as people they know are executed and the racial campaigns start. Still, the narrator continues with her depictions of the relationships and daily life of the family. Alberto becomes a serious married man and doctor, Mario loses his interest in art and romance, Paola marries and divorces. Natalia also marries, but even the descriptions about her early married life give way to stories about her friends. Even with the losses of the war, life goes on, new characters are introduced, her parents summer and mountain climb with the grandchildren now, and the family references and jokes continue on. ( )
1 vote DieFledermaus | Apr 13, 2015 |
A vida da família da autora da ascenção do fascismo aos anos 50, um tributo a esse léxico familiar que só faz sentido para as pessoas que eles eram e não são mais. ( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 30, 2013 |
A memoir of Italian Jewish family in th 30's and the 40's. It concentrates on the details of family life using, of course, family sayings, to bring back both the rhythm of daily life and the exceptional events. ( )
  pnorman4345 | Apr 21, 2012 |
A cavallo fra un' autobiografia , un libro di memorie e il ritratto di una societa' di inizio 900 che e' stata protagonista di molta della nostra storia contemporanea. Il merito di questo libro e' di evidenziare quali sono le radici dei nostri ricordi : ognuno di noi ha il suo “lessico familiare“, costruito dalle nostre memorie ; i nostri genitori, i nostri fratelli, gli amici sono gli unici testimoni di quello che siamo stati e di quello che ora non siamo piu'. ( )
1 vote mara4m | Nov 21, 2010 |
che scrittura...che piacere.. ( )
1 vote bezukov | Jun 7, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (45 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Natalia Ginzburgprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baroni, StefanoPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyers, PeggyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garboli, CesareForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klinkert-Pötters Vos, J.H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McPhee, JennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toorenbeek, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Nella mia casa paterna, quand'ero ragazzina, a tavola, se io o i miei fratelli rovesciavamo il bicchiere sulla tovaglia, o lasciavamo cadere un coltello, la voce di mio padre tuonava: - Non fate malagrazie!
The places, events, and people in this book are real. (Author's Preface)
At the dinner table in my father's home when I was a girl if I, or one of my siblings, knocked a glass over on the tablecloth or dropped a knife, my father's voice would thunder, "Watch your manners!"
Lexicon: a dictionary, or more precisely, an assemblage of words meaningful only to initiates, or a collection of phrases, any one of which, when uttered, no matter when or where, will at once identify the speaker as a member of a particular tribe. (Afterword)
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"Natalia Ginzburg, one of Italy's great writers, introduced A Family Lexicon, her most celebrated work, with an unusual disclaimer: "The places, events and people are all real. I have invented nothing. Every time that I have found myself inventing something in accordance with my old habits as a novelist, I have felt impelled at once to destroy everything thus invented." A Family Lexicon re-creates with extraordinary objectivity the small world of a family enduring some of the most difficult years of the twentieth century, the period from the rise of Mussolini through World War II (Ginzburg's first husband, who was a member of the resistance, was killed by the Nazis) and its immediate aftermath. Every family has its store of phrases and sayings by which it maintains its sense of what it means to be a family. Such sayings and stories lie at the heart of a great novel about family and history"--… (more)

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