Friday, September 29, 2017

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

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The personal essays in The Little Virtues are very serious. But then I guess that is to be expected as the author is a woman who lived in Italy during the Second World War.  Her husband was arrested by the Germans and died in prison.

Be that as it may, and this is what I love about the personal essay form, Natalia Ginzburg assures the reader that she has an affinity for wearing worn out shoes and turns the piece into a musing on raising children. Or she writes that she started writing silly poems and moved on to even sillier short stories. Then she began spinning tales featuring more authentic characters and knew for certain that writing was her vocation. 

Her essay 'The Little Virtues' is a reflection on what she thinks children should be taught: 

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In 'He and I' she writes a 12-page comparison between her likes and dislikes and the preferences of her second husband. He loves music, she doesn't understand it at all. He is always hot, she always feels cold. He loves traveling, she wants to stay at home. 

By the time I finished reading this entry, I wondered why on earth she stayed with this man. I suspect she wondered the same thing. 

The book has a copyright and translation date of 1985, although it was originally published in 1962 in Italy. Any biographical details included here I gleaned from the book's dust jacket.

The essays are thoughtful and wander about but I was hoping for a little humor. There is none. There is a darkness that pervades — not so much in specific details about her war experiences — but just knowing the time in which these were written gives the essays a certain heaviness. Perhaps it is the translation from the original Italian. I don't know, but this wasn't a book I thought, "Oh, I have to own this one so I can reread it often."

Many times while reading the essays in this slim volume I shook my head at the realization that the world situation she lived through and the current political climate have much in common. Alas, some things never change.


  1. You're right, some things never change. Sometimes I take comfort in that--when the world seems particularly troubled, it helps me remember that people have survived for a long time faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. I don't mean to say that I feel complacent, just that I'm not driven to hysterical depression every time I read or hear the news! (I think you understand what I mean.)

    This book sounds like a worthwhile read, but not necessarily one I'll run out and try to find.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kathy. I know what you mean. I too feel a little comfort knowing that others have been through horrible times and yet survived.

      I have declared - for myself - No News November. I spend way too much time reading jarring headlines and that is only adding stress and certainly not enhancing my life. I did arrange for a retreat Thanksgiving week at another monastery (Gethsemani is refurbishing its guesthouse and will be closed November through March). I never look at my phone or the internet when I am away on retreat so that is what gave me the idea since I will already be spending one week 'off the grid.' I am actually looking forward to the freedom.