In this first U.S. translation of two novellas by one of the most respected Italian writers of the 20th century, two middle-aged protagonists navigate the joys, sorrows and banalities of family life and relationships in middle-class Rome.
Family is the masterpiece. Borghesia, the companion piece, is a fine work, but it is overshadowed by the longer one that precedes it ... in both these novellas...it’s one damn thing after another, a chronicle of interwoven lives. But Famiglia has the more sophisticated shape ... The series of downhill events in Family feels inevitable and irresistible ... Ginzburg, like Tolstoy, vaults beyond the moral and psychological parameters she has set up—not to a vision of spiritual redemption, though, but to something far more primal and rooted ... Borghesia, like Family, is rich in character and event, mingling comic blunders with grievous error, and also ends with the protagonist’s death in middle age ... So why doesn’t this story have the emotional richness of Family? Unlike Carmine, a tangled, tormented character, Ilaria’s emotional life is hollow: that is the essence of her tale, the reason why a friend suggests she get a cat. But her hollowness can’t carry the weight of the narrative as Carmine’s complexity does. The surrounding characters, while never dull, do not work their way into the heart. Compared to Family, Borghesia seems something Ginzburg might have tossed off as a companion piece. Even the humor is broader and lighter than in Family ... Like all of her work, these two novellas...are suffused with the rigorous wisdom Ginzburg earned through calamity and her determination to persist nonetheless in her work.
... painterly ... Ginzburg has perfected an immaculate, between-the-lines style that's the Italian equivalent of Raymond Carver—though her territory is the gorgeous, amber-lit world of bourgeoisie Rome. Her delicately oblique sketches of unlived lives linger like the memory of afternoon sun across a table.