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Natalia Ginzburg

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Natalia Ginzburg
Ginzburg and President Sandro Pertini, early 1980s
Ginzburg and President Sandro Pertini, early 1980s
BornNatalia Levi
(1916-07-14)14 July 1916
Palermo, Italy
Died7 October 1991(1991-10-07) (aged 75)
Rome, Italy
Pen nameAlessandra Tornimparte
Alma materUniversity of Turin
GenresNovels, short stories, essays
Notable worksFamily Sayings

The Advertisement

see more below
Notable awards
(m. 1938; died 1944)
Gabriele Baldini
(m. 1950; died 1969)
  • Carlo Ginzburg
  • Andrea Ginzburg
  • Alessandra Ginzburg
  • Susanna Baldini (1954–2002)
  • Antonio Baldini (1959–1960)
RelativesGiuseppe Levi (father)
Natalia Levi Ginzburg
Deputy of the Italian Republic
Personal details
Political partyItalian Communist Party

Natalia Ginzburg (Italian: [nataˈliːa ˈɡintsburɡ], German: [ˈɡɪntsbʊʁk]; née Levi; 14 July 1916 – 7 October 1991) was an Italian author whose work explored family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy. She wrote novels, short stories and essays, for which she received the Strega Prize and Bagutta Prize. Most of her works were also translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and the United States.

An activist, for a time in the 1930s she belonged to the Italian Communist Party. In 1983, she was elected to Parliament from Rome as an independent politician.

Early life and education[edit]

Born as Natalia Levi in Palermo, Sicily, in 1916, she spent most of her youth in Turin with her family, as her father in 1919 took a position with the University of Turin. Her father, Giuseppe Levi, a renowned Italian histologist, was born into a Jewish Italian family, and her mother, Lidia Tanzi (the sister of Drusilla Tanzi), was Catholic.[1][2] Her parents were secular and raised Natalia, her sister Paola (who would marry Adriano Olivetti) and her three brothers as atheists.[3] Their home was a centre of cultural life, as her parents invited intellectuals, activists and industrialists. At the age of 17 in 1933, Natalia published her first story, "I bambini", in the magazine Solaria.

Marriage and family[edit]

Natalia and Leone Ginzburg

In 1938, she married Leone Ginzburg, and they had three children together, Carlo, Andrea, and Alessandra.[4] Their son Carlo Ginzburg became a historian.

Although Natalia Ginzburg was able to live relatively free of harassment during World War II, her husband Leone was sent into internal exile because of his anti-Fascist activities, assigned from 1941 to 1943 to Pizzoli, a village in Abruzzo. She and their children lived most of the time with him.[5]

Opponents of the Fascist regime, she and her husband secretly went to Rome and edited an anti-Fascist newspaper, until Leone Ginzburg was arrested. He died in incarceration in 1944 after suffering severe torture.[5]

In 1950, Ginzburg married again, to Gabriele Baldini, a scholar of English literature. They lived in Rome. He died in 1969.


After her marriage, she used the name "Natalia Ginzburg" (occasionally spelt "Ginzberg") in most subsequent publications. Her first novel was published under the pseudonym "Alessandra Tornimparte" in 1942, during Fascist Italy's most anti-Semitic period, when Jews were banned from publishing.

Ginzburg spent much of the 1940s working for the publisher Einaudi in Turin in addition to her creative writing. They published some of the leading figures of postwar Italy, including Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Cesare Pavese and Italo Calvino. Ginzburg's second novel was published in 1947.

The experiences that she and her husband had during the war altered her perception of her identification as a Jew. She thought deeply about the questions aroused by the war and the Holocaust, dealing with them in fiction and essays. She became supportive of Catholicism, arousing controversy among her circle, because she believed that Christ was a persecuted Jew.[5] She opposed the removal of crucifixes in public buildings but her purported conversion to Catholicism is controversial and most sources still consider her an "atheist Jewess."[6]

Beginning in 1950, when Ginzburg married again and moved to Rome, she entered the most prolific period of her literary career. During the next 20 years, she published most of the works for which she is best known. She and Baldini were deeply involved in the cultural life of the city.

In 1964, she played the role of Mary of Bethany in Pier Paolo Pasolini's film The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

Ginzburg was politically involved throughout her life as an activist and polemicist. Like many prominent anti-Fascists, for a time she belonged to the Italian Communist Party. She was elected to the Italian Parliament as an Independent in 1983.


In 2020, the New York Review of Books issued Ginzburg's novellas, Valentino and Sagittarius, translated into English by Avril Bardoni in 1987, in a single volume. In her new introduction for this edition, Cynthia Zarin observed that location "maps the emotional terrain" in these two works as in Ginzburg's other works: the apartment, the living room, the café where events transpire.[7] At a book talk to honour its debut, Zarin and the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri discussed the significance of Ginzburg's works and career.[8]


Selected works[edit]

Novels and short stories[edit]

  • La strada che va in città (1942). The Road to the City, transl. Frances Frenaye (1949) – first published under the name Alessandra Tornimparte
  • È stato così (1947). The Dry Heart, transl. Frances Frenaye (1949)
  • Tutti i nostri ieri (1952). A Light for Fools / All Our Yesterdays, transl. Angus Davidson (1985)
  • Valentino (1957). Valentino, transl. Avril Bardoni (1987)
  • Sagittario (1957). Sagittarius, transl. Avril Bardoni (1987)
  • Le voci della sera (1961). Voices in the Evening, transl. D.M. Low (1963)
  • Lessico famigliare (1963). Family Sayings, transl. D.M. Low (1963); The Things We Used to Say, transl. Judith Woolf (1977); Family Lexicon, transl. Jenny McPhee (2017)
  • Caro Michele (1973). No Way, transl. Sheila Cudahy (1974); Dear Michael, transl. Sheila Cudahy (1975); Happiness, As Such, transl. Minna Zallman Proctor (2019) – adapted for the film Caro Michele (1976)
  • Famiglia (1977). Family, transl. Beryl Stockman (1988)
  • La famiglia Manzoni (1983). The Manzoni Family, transl. Marie Evans (1987)
  • La città e la casa (1984). The City and the House, transl. Dick Davis (1986)


  • Le piccole virtù (1962). The Little Virtues, transl. Dick Davis (1985)
  • Mai devi domandarmi (1970). Never Must You Ask Me, transl. Isabel Quigly (1970) – mostly articles published in La Stampa between 1968-1979
  • Vita immaginaria (1974). A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays, transl. Lynne Sharon Schwartz (2002)
  • Serena Cruz o la vera giustizia (1990). Serena Cruz, or The Meaning of True Justice, transl. Lynn Sharon Schwartz (2002)
  • È difficile parlare di sé (1999). It's Hard to Talk About Yourself, transl. Louise Quirke (2003)

Dramatic works[edit]

  • Ti ho sposato per allegria (1966). I Married You for Fun, transl. Henry Reed (1969); I Married You to Cheer Myself Up, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • Fragola e panna (1966). The Strawberry Ice, transl. Henry Reed (1973); Strawberry and Cream, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • La segretaria (1967). The Secretary, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • L'inserzione (1968). The Advertisement, transl. Henry Reed (1968) – performed at the Old Vic, London, directed by Sir Laurence Olivier and starring Joan Plowright, in 1968.
  • Mai devi domandarmi (1970). Never Must You Ask Me, transl. Isabel Quigly (1973)
  • La porta sbagliata (1968). The Wrong Door, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • Paese di mare (1968). A Town by the Sea, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • Dialogo (1970). Duologue, transl. Henry Reed (1977); Dialogue, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • La parrucca (1973). The Wig, transl. Henry Reed (1976); Jen Wienstein (2000); Wendell Ricketts (2008)
  • L'intervista (1988). The Interview, transl. Wendell Ricketts (2008)


  1. ^ "Natalia Ginzburg, JWA Encyclopedia
  2. ^ "Natalia Ginzburg, E-Notes
  3. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Natalia Ginzburg". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 1 September 2006.
  4. ^ Griliches, Zvi (2010). Max Michelson (ed.). The Griliches Family History.
  5. ^ a b c Castronuovo, Nadia (2010), Natalia Ginzburg : Jewishness as Moral Identity, Troubador Publishing UK, ISBN 978-1-84876-396-8
  6. ^ Cantone, Umberto (4 December 2016). "Memoria e famiglia di Natalia Ginzburg" [Natalia Ginzburg's Memory and Family]. La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  7. ^ Cynthia Zarin (2020). Introduction. Valentino and Sagittarius. By Ginzburg, Natalia. New York: New York Review Books. pp. vii–xi. ISBN 9781681374741.
  8. ^ "NYRB: Jhumpa Lahiri & Cynthia Zarin discuss Natalia Ginzburg's Valentino & Sagittarius". Community Bookstore. 2020-08-13. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  9. ^ Heyman, Neil M. "Ginzburg, Natalia (1916–1991)". Encyclopedia.com.
  10. ^ Ginzburg, Natalia. "Biography".
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 July 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Giffuni, Cathe (June 1993). "A Bibliography of the Writings of Natalia Ginzburg". Bulletin of Bibliography. Vol. 50, no. 2. pp. 139–144.

External links[edit]