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All Our Yesterdays

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The victors, on the other hand, were left, quite naturally, with a sense – for better or worse – that they very much did know how to take on the future.

Mas a guerra continuava longe, na Polónia, a Itália não se mexia e Emanuele não sabia o que pensar, dizia que se a Itália não entrasse na guerra o fascismo nunca mais cairia. But subsequently, Danilo is arrested, whipping up a frenzy in the family to burn all evidence and material pointing to their dissident activities in which Anna also takes part. Yet, despite this confidence and optimism, the ravages of the war remained with my grandparents their entire lives – and the impact was felt by their children and grandchildren. Unlike the unfortunate Signora Maria, my grandmother, and her mother and father, did make it down to the air-raid shelter in time, but had no indication that they’d lost their home until they came out of the shelter the next morning – ‘you never hear the one that hits you’, was my grandmother’s refrain for the rest of her life.

Toda a escrita de Natália Ginzburg é de uma enorme fluidez, nada é dito para além do necessário, arrastando-nos para dentro do enredo, enredando-nos. It was as if her writing was a very important secret that I had been waiting all my life to discover . As you say, I suspect it’s in a similar league to All Our Yesterdays with its broad scope and focus on family dynamics. We are deeply, painfully rooted in every being and thing in the world, the world which has become filled with echoes and trembling and shadows, to which we are bound by a devout and passionate pity. The darker emotions of the war are all present but she treats the bitterness, anger, fear and calumny of her characters with a wry detachment and a remarkable generosity of spirit.

Their relationship is touched by tragedy and grace as the events of their life in the countryside run parallel to the war and the encroaching threat of fascism – and in their wake, a society dealing with anxiety and grief. Jews from some Italian Northern cities are sent to the South, shunting them off to villages where they cannot ‘harm the war’.Reading this book seventy years after it was written, however, I feel that ‘ nostri’ also includes me – includes my family’s experience of the war. Natalia Ginzburg presents a chronicle of two families living opposite each other, in a northern Italian town, one slightly impoverished, the other rich. Ginzburg was born Natalia Levi, the daughter of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, in Sicily in 1916. It’s just a question of time before they are herded onto trucks and trains to be shipped to concentration camps.

The European Literature Network was created with the mission of championing great writing from Europe in the UK – and doing it together. We are also introduced to the rather colourful character Cenzo Rena, an older friend of the family rumoured to be rich with his own house and estate in Italy’s rural south. Cenzo Rena’s sudden appearances are often chaotic, uprooting the rhythm of the house, but he livens up the household becoming a sort of mentor to Guistino who values his company. Like any story of the second world war, it tells of almost unendurable grief, loss, violence and injustice.Porque na Polónia morria gente, todos os dias morria gente de um lado e do outro, enquanto ele e Emanuele estavam sentados a falar no terraço e a senhora Maria procurava açúcar pela cidade. It’s easy to recognise on an intellectual level that this must have been Ginzburg’s intent – to remind every reader that the twentieth-century fascist debacle would be felt long into the future; but there was something more personal about this novel, a familiarity in terms of character and incident that had me respond in an emotional way. Unsurprisingly, there is an eccentric cook/housekeeper here too, a rather foolish woman referred to as La Maschiona, whose devastating actions drive the novel’s denouement. As personal relationships in these families are forged and fragmented, the Germans continue their irrepressible march across Europe, advancing into Belgium and Holland – and then France.

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