Keep the ball rolling
- A Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee
NYRB, 224 pp, £9.99, August 2017, ISBN 978 1 59017 838 6
For Italians, I’ve found after 33 years in Italy, to belong to a family, a group of friends, a city, a region, a corporation or trade union, a church, a political party, is generally more important than to be morally unimpeachable, or free and independent, or even successful and powerful. The strongest positive emotions come from being instrumental to your family or group, the strongest negative emotions from feelings of abandonment. But the community of reference rarely if ever coincides with the Italian nation; rather it’s one of many competing communities within that potentially hostile whole. And members of the community must be worthy members. Hence aggressive criticism between members is constant and shame a characteristic emotion, whether shame because others are unworthy, hence one is demeaned by one’s group, or shame that one is unworthy oneself, hence reviled by the group. All this in a situation where it’s impossible to distance oneself from the other people involved, or not without a traumatic, perhaps fatal break.
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