All our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg

Reading Natalia Ginzburg felt like watching a neo-realist movie by De-Sica. Despite being placed in the backdrop of the war (1939-44), it is still focused on the life of people, and keeps itself slightly distant from political agendas. Instead, you are forced to know individual characters, understand their worldview, even sympathize with their stupidities.
All our yesterdays is about the children of two neighboring families – one of them rich and owner of a factory, the other not so well to do. In their adolescent years, the children find themselves in a Fascist regime and in a country which decides to go to the war on Germany’s side. In the excitement of youth, two of these children begin to prepare for a revolution, which soon fizzles out. As their adults die or become preoccupied with the oncoming war, these children spend idle hours going astray, unhurried and unconcerned about their studies.
Things change, and the youngest girl, Anna, is married to an old family friend with whom she moves to a poor village in South Italy. The life in this village is drawn in plain strokes by Ginzburg, and it is easy to see that it is a vastly different world from the town of Anna’s growing up. It is here that war becomes a reality, and the writer makes us come face to face with the dangers and concerns of common Italian people. People who do not support Fascism and thus often celebrate Italian and German defeats against the English.
The writing is often minimalist, though not excessively so. The story is told by a narrator, who does not involve itself very much with dialogues, but does sketch feelings in rough outlines. With minimalism, Ginzburg is able to weave in many characters and events into the story. There are several deaths of various kinds, and each of the children grows up in a different manner, finding own ways of dealing with the changes. The several characters with their own forms of cowardice and heroism and their own voices (‘lived and died a Socialist’) make this book a very interesting read. The character of Anna, placed at the center seems most unformed as she drifts along life, but is also quite realistic.
This is one of the plainest war novels that I have read with few tortures, fewer gunshots and even lesser bomb attacks, and yet with a simple paucity of lemons and carefully guarded cellars, the author makes the pinch of war felt.

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