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All Our Yesterdays

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But even now the style remains sober and business-like, in a continuous stream of relatively short sentences, descriptive, without dialogues, and again with subdued emotion; not even when really dramatic things happen towards the end of the war.

Reading this novel, we get to know its characters as if they were our own friends, or even ourselves. No, I haven’t read Family Lexicon yet, but it’s great to hear that you rate it so highly as I definitely want to get to it. But newspapers that had to come out every day with the rising of the sun, without any danger or fear, that was another story. The adolescent Anna is mystified by these developments: are Emanuele and Danilo both in love with her sister?In 1943 the Allies fire-bombed Milan, Turin and Genoa and hundreds were killed and a quarter million left homeless. The interweaving of war and politics, with family life and struggles sounds brilliant, and especially as it reflects her own life. Signora Maria's character is a kind of symbol, as is Ippolito, the brother, Cenzo Rena, the family friend who they believe owns a castle, and Franz, the stepmother's ex-lover who marries the step-daughter.

mesa o pai esfregava as mãos e dizia que se houvesse Deus o deixaria viver até ao fim do fascismo, para poder publicar o seu livro e ver as caras das pessoas. Anos čia radau mano skoniui per mažai, buvo tarsi bandoma papasakoti apie visus veikėjus, bet nė į vieną nepasigilinama labiau, todėl kai kur pasirodė, kad autorė plaukia paviršiumi, nors medžiagos pasikapstyti giliau čia buvo apstu. Across the street, in the “house opposite”, lives the owner of the town’s soap factory, with his wife, his children and “a person that you couldn’t be quite sure who he was” named Franz.

A quem quer que nos apeguemos ao longo da narrativa, nunca estamos realmente preparados para os perder - na ficção como na realidade. A particular sympathy grows up between us and the characters we invent—that our debilitated imagination is still just able to invent—a sympathy that is tender and almost maternal, warm and damp with tears, intimately physical and stifling.

Interestingly, it has resonances for me with the book I’m just finished, Victor Serge’s “Last Times”. Ginzburg seamlessly places these family dynamics against a wider political backdrop – Fascism, the approaching rumblings of World War Two with the big question of the mode of Italy’s participation, and later on the horrors of the Holocaust.

In 1952, when the book was first published, many Italian readers must have thought that ‘ nostri’ included them. After the death of Anna’s father, near the beginning of the novel, Ippolito befriends Emanuele, one of the boys from the house opposite. For Ginzburg and her characters, though, ideology and nationality are separate: the fascists do not represent Italy for them, and when the Germans sweep in they are treated like an invading force, not friendly partners. Ginzburg has written a truly remarkable novel here, a story of ordinary people living through extraordinary times, beautifully told with a warmth and generosity of spirit that reflects the Italian character. Gradually, from the hectic and comical jostling of family life in the opening chapters, a protagonist begins to emerge: the widower’s youngest daughter Anna.

With air raids, constant movement of soldiers and distant bombs going off, the two families prepare their basement for survival mode. Through Sally Rooney’s excellent introduction to the novel, we learn how Natalia and her first husband, the Jewish anti-fascist activist Leone Ginzburg, were sent to Southern Italy during the war as a form of internal exile.

The pensione is bombed, and concerned to save a large quantity of towels, she doesn’t reach the air-raid shelter in time: ‘she had been swept away in the collapse of the staircase together with a large suitcase, in which were these towels. San Costanzo receives four Jewish internees under this initiative – three old women and a Turkish Jew, who ultimately becomes Cenzo Rena’s friend.

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