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All Our Yesterdays

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In the post-war world, some form of emptiness also gnaws at these survivors, who otherwise used to rebellions, revolutions, and political turmoil, must navigate a welcome but substantially altered and unknown era of peace. Anna, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl in a small town in northern Italy, finds herself pregnant after a brief romance. And that was a good thing, because when fate announced itself with a loud fanfare of trumpets you always had to be a little on your guard. These are not people born with special moral qualities, people who find it easy to be brave and honourable. 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.

It was as if her writing was a very important secret that I had been waiting all my life to discover . One knows there won't be the intimidating burden of making the described world appear authentic, of getting all the period detail right. The two of them have “great discussions” together, “but no one knew quite what they were about, because if anyone else was present they started talking in German”. Thus, the spotlight shifts to Cenzo Rena and he becomes the axis around which much of the plot of Part Two revolves.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. In the 1920s while Ginzburg’s young people are burning illicit anti-fascist newspapers in their stove, my paternal grandfather (an active socialist) was ferrying union bosses to Downing Street for talks to end the general strike. In 1952, when the book was first published, many Italian readers must have thought that ‘ nostri’ included them. This accomplishment is made possible by Ginzburg’s extraordinary understanding of the human soul, by her brilliance as a prose stylist and above all by her incomparable moral clarity. To this day I can’t be sure when or how they died – he refused to discuss it, just as he refused to take part in any form of remembrance ceremony.

In true Italian fashion, Franz is married to Emanuele’s sister, Amalia, having been involved with the siblings’ mother, Mammina, some years before. The main characters just undergo what is happening, barely understand what is going on, have no control over their lives. But as readers, we have the chance to see a few of these people, under unimaginable pressure, with chaos and violence everywhere around them, responding with transcendent and unforgettable moral beauty. Fathers die, the children go to school or start working in the factory (as laborers or as directors), they have friendships and successful or unsuccessful relationships: it is all told without emotion.Having been scattered across the country, and Europe, by the upheaval of war, the final scene sees the survivors regather and reflect on the recent past – ‘thinking of all those who were dead, and of the long war and the sorrow and noise and confusion’.

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. Ginzburg is a unique voice and there’s a direct simplicity prose that makes her dry observations all the more riveting. 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.A sua narrativa é esgotante e instila o medo de nos vermos perante semelhante situação onde nada é preto ou branco. By the war’s end, Natalia was in her late twenties, a widow with three young children and a debut novella under her belt. And yet, at the novel’s close, after the war has ended, Ginzburg is careful to show the difficult task that awaits those who survive. At sixteen she becomes pregnant and her boyfriend Giuma abandons her after giving her the money to have an abortion. In times of crisis, she learns – and we learn along with her – that there can be no ethics without politics.

Natalia Ginzburg presents a chronicle of two families living opposite each other, in a northern Italian town, one slightly impoverished, the other rich. 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. All Our Yesterdays was published seven years after the end of the war, and it is difficult not to hear Ginzburg’s own voice in this passage, sitting and grinding away at her desk, “without either danger or fear”, trying to make sense of what remains. As war breaks out in Europe, the moral world of the novel becomes increasingly haunted by the brutality of fascism, and by the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. A paragraph in this narrative could run across an entire page, sentences drag on with determined storytelling, time shifts, and in between all this is a focused narrative voice that is so confident of the story being told that it makes you a confident reader.He is tormented by the news of Jews being packed off in trains; he resists the idea of lodging refugees at his home because he hates people staying with him but later relents and willingly provides shelter to a slew of fugitives in his house cellar. Pero acabó conquistandome, quedé enamorada de Cenzo Rena, generoso y exagerado y de Anna, que soñaba con la revolución, de giuma, ipolito, de todos, así que, aunque el tono no haya cambiado, me encantó. Tenía además mucha curiosidad por leer a Ginzburg, a quien seguiré leyendo, porque tiene algo propio, y quiero saber si todos sus libros van en este tono o si cambia en otros. The setting is 1930s northern Italy, where the central character, 16-year-old Anna, navigates life and love via her family and the family in the house opposite. Thus, in All Our Yesterdays, through the lens of two families, we get a broader glimpse of a country at war – Italian civilians engulfed by tension, anxiety, and mounting uncertainty given the events unfolding around them and on the world stage.

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