Review: Family Lexicon

Family Lexicon (also titled Family Sayings) is a semi-autobiographical novel by the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. It takes place between 1920 and 1950, and she narrates aspects of her daily life starting with early childhood memories until she reaches adulthood. It mostly follows a linear order but instead of making the events a central core to the story, the book focuses on people’s behaviors and communication styles, hence the title.

The book describes how the author’s family, among many other Italian families, lived through the fascist period and those first post-World War II years. Ginzburg’s writing style is eloquent and ironic, even when describing these grim times and the difficulties she had to face.

I read this book deliberately slowly, the ambiance surrounding the characters just felt so tangible and homey, I did not want it to end. While reading it, it also made me question my own family’s lexicon. If it weren’t for this book, I wouldn’t have realized how many words, phrases, and inside jokes that my family members usually repeat would have no meaning or simply confuse external passersby.

t seems to me that Natalia Ginzburg is a rather low-key author that deserves more recognition, and I cannot wait to read more books by her.