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All Our Yesterdays

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Ippolito sinks into a morbid depression at the German occupation of Poland, “with the Germans taking people away to die in the concentration camps … his will to live left him at the thought of those camps, where the Germans put their cigarettes out against the prisoners’ foreheads”. His mental equilibrium begins to be overturned: he finds he is the No 1 target for the German authorities, becomes more and more paranoid about informers, distrusts his lover and finally decides to flee to the safety of Argentina.

By sheer coincidence I’ve been reading books set during the Second World War that view events from the Italian perspective – Iris Origo’s two diaries, important pieces of work because they are a first-hand account that captures the immediacy of the events unfolding around her; and All Our Yesterdays, a work of fiction by Natalia Ginzburg also set during the same period but written in the years following the war. But even now the style remains sober and business-like, in a continuous stream of relatively short sentences, descriptive, without dialogues, and again with subdued emotion; not even when really dramatic things happen towards the end of the war.ELNet is both an online and physical gathering place for sharing content and discussion, with the goal of encouraging the promotion, professionalism and popularity of European literature in the UK. Man atrodo, kad labai sunku parašyt knygą apie kasdienybę, be didelių plot twistų ar įvykių, ir padaryt, kad ji vis tiek prikaustytų. 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. Franz, we later learn, is a Jew and deeply worried about the fate of his Jewish parents who have most likely perished in the Holocaust. And this is why All Our Yesterdays feels so familiar – for it records the experiences, not of the fighting, but of those who were left behind.

There's an unpleasant Jewish character, something else you won't find in contemporary crowd-pleasing ww2 novels. Anna observes Ippolito and Emanuele having spirited, intense discussions furtively and they also bring Concettina’s suitor Danilo into their fold.Ginzburg, who's first husband Leone, a Russian Jew, was arrested, tortured and killed in 1944 for his underground activities of running an anti-fascist newspaper, has written a powerful novel on Italy during its darkest days of the 20th century, giving a sharp and penetrating portrait of a society desperate for change, but betrayed by war. I was astonished that I had never encountered Ginzburg’s work before: that no one, knowing me, had ever told me about her books. As readers we grow to know and love Anna deeply, but we cannot help loving at the same time her cantankerous father, her sombre and beautiful brother Ippolito, the fretting Signora Maria and all the other complex and interesting people that populate the world of the book. 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. For Ginzburg’s cast draws in characters from across the social spectrum, from factory owners to police sergeants, from ladies’ companions to lowly servants, and from the aristocratic Marchesa to the Italian peasants, the contandini – all with both a collective and a personal experience of the war; Ginzburg, as always, creating a satisfying tension between the general and the specific.

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