After WWII, a small Italian town struggles to emerge from under the thumb of Fascism. Elsa, the novel's narrator, weaves a rich tapestry of provincial Italian life: two generations of neighbors and relatives, their gossip and shattered dreams, their heartbreaks and struggles to find happiness. Elsa wants to imagine a future for herself, free from the expectations and burdens of her town's history, but the weight of the past will always prove unbearable, insistently posing the question: 'Why has everything been ruined?'
Ginzburg’s narrative proceeds by pen portrait and vignette, elucidating how its cast of characters are both connected and also, whether as a result of external forces or by personal inclination, or both, isolated ... over all hangs an atmosphere of nostalgia, not in its comforting or corny sense, but as a form of homesickness for the past, and for the vanishing possibilities of the self ... Ginzburg’s efforts to bring those buried stories to the surface are compelling, strange and wonderful to see in their English version.
Reading Ginzburg in translation is ironic as one of her talents is in exploring what can’t be directly expressed. She investigates the layers of meaning behind even simple communications between family, friends, and lovers. These are people whose lives intersect and push boundaries constantly, yet even with such intimacy—often stifling geographically—there is distance between them. There is no distance at all, however, with the reader. In Ginzburg’s careful hands, one quickly forgets there’s an authorial voice as her characters are engaging storytellers themselves. This intimate web of tales makes readers guests at these family events, overhearing secrets and watching their inconsistencies and peccadilloes that makes them as alive as the author states they are.
... engrossing ... Ginzburg’s efficient, lyrical prose and ear for dialogue make for an expansive and beautifully rendered study of individuals and community in wartime. With this latest resurrected masterpiece, the late author’s work continues to prove irresistible and relevant.