Over the weekend, Erin, in London, sent me this powerful, heartening essay entitled “Why Some of Us Thrive in a Crisis” by Vivian Gornick. In it, Gornick turns to Natalia Ginzburg in search of some understanding of what is happening to us in this very strange time. Ginzburg speaks to me at all times, but I agree with Gornick that her work is particularly relevant to where we find ourselves now. I actually translated Family Lexicon in 2013, but for various reasons publication was held up until 2016 (and, of course, I’m convinced the universe had something to with it :). That was the year that changed everything for us in the US, indeed for the world–or at least it was when our regime change here in the US starkly revealed what we had let fester for years–gross inequality, xenophobia, the flourishing of white supremacy, a global rise in dictatorship and fascist-leaning governments. Ginzburg’s work in 2016 suddenly, for me, had a whole new level of urgency. Her novels, essays, and plays in general, and Family Lexicon in particular, offer deep guidance for how to navigate who we are, both individually and collectively, as members of families, society, and political movements. She does this effectively and elegantly by simply telling us stories. She shows us how it all begins at home and that who we are, who we can be, is revealed and governed by the words we use to speak to each other. If I had to choose one book for us all to read in this time when our world has gone very awry, it would be Family Lexicon.
As it happens, I will be discussing Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon with the International Book Club at The Queen’s College, Oxford on Zoom at 3pm on Wednesday, May 20. If you’d like to join in the conversation, it is free and open to the public. You can register here.