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The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg

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The City and the House is a tale of two continents, with several cities and many houses that serve as provisional homes to the characters—all of them becoming unmoored despite their wishes to stay rooted. An epistolary novel written with Natalia Ginzburg's dry wit, The City and the House turns physical dramas into detached narratives in letters that leave a permanent impression, even a permanent wound, on the reader.

Natalia Ginzburg

(1916–1991) was an Italian author, whose works included the novels The City and the House and The Manzoni Family; the play I Married You for the Fun of It; and A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays


Daily Reading

Day 1

January 5, 2021 | pp. 1-20 (through “We will see one another next Saturday. I’ll bring Ignazio Fegiz. Egisto”)

In the first twenty pages two apartments are sold. Real estate transactions are never simple changes of ownership. Roberta asks Giuseppe: “What will you do if one fine day you decide to come back?” Giuseppe is not alone in his blunder. Ask Lear.

Day 2

January 6, 2021 | pp. 21-38 (through “…their system has broken down. Egisto”)

Quintessential Ginzburg, stories told slantingly: Lucrezia narrates her life—births, deaths, affairs, breakups—dryly in a letter to Giuseppe. From Albina’s letter we learn that Lucrezia locks herself in her room to write him, not taking care of her children’s meal.

Day 3

January 7, 2021 | pp. 39-57 (through “And this made me very upset and worried. Giuseppe”)

“At a certain point in our lives everything we see for the first time is external to us.”
Is being a permanent tourist so intolerable a fate? Perhaps so, though there must be something intolerable in every role for Giuseppe, whose ego is like an oversized, unhatchable egg.

Day 4

January 8, 2021 | pp. 58-70 (through “…we are just piling up pointless details. Giuseppe”)

“She had a baby girl and her mother died. She separated from her husband who killed himself a short time afterwards.”
Death is always a swift occurrence in Ginzburg’s narrative. There is no drama, the ripples are barely visible on the surface...

Day 5

January 9, 2021 | pp. 71-87 (through “I shall come to collect the keys. Alberico”)

“Since I have been here she had never made a meat-loaf but I’m sure that if she did make one it wouldn’t fall apart.”
A minor hell is where a person is forever remembered by her failed meat-loaf. Poor Lucrezia. Only Piero so far praises and believes in the meatloaf.

Day 6

January 10, 2021 | pp. 88-107 (through “…but perhaps he’ll write to you one day. Lucrezia")

“He went to America in order to hide himself away under his brother’s wings. But brothers don’t have wings.”
Clear-eyed Albina! Lucrezia seeks Giuseppe's protection in her love affair with him. Albina, once in love with Giuseppe too, has no such illusion.

Day 7

January 11, 2021 | pp. 108-130 (through “Let me know if you are still sleeping in the room with the bear-cubs. Lucrezia”)

“The best time for me is in my office…and I see the sunset over the rooftops, through the window, and then the greyness of the dusk, and then darkness.”
Piero’s understated loneliness: like a rehearsal of the end of a marriage or even death, every evening.

Day 8

January 12, 2021 | pp 131-150 (through “You’ll meet Anais. Egisto”)

Giuseppe to Lucrezia: “Real friendship does not scratch and bite, and your letter scratched and bit me.” The affair between them is over, but their letters, full of love entangled with discontentment, are the most passionate and wounding words in the novel.

Day 9

January 13, 2021 | pp. 229-247 (through “with love from your father.”)

Roberta, writing about Alberico: “He always seems like somebody who has just walked for miles and miles.” Roberta is really a solace. She sees the homelessness and rootlessness of Alberico better than anyone else.

Day 10

January 14, 2021 | pp. 171-191 (through “…in which your future is fated and all mapped out for you. Egisto.”)

Ignazio Fegiz to Roberta: “He said that perhaps, in a certain sense, I could be said to be right.” Roberta calls I.F. “as closed as an oyster.” And when he speaks of the truth, his words are as slippery as oyster, too.

Day 11

January 15, 2021 | pp. 192-211 (through “Send me your news. Giuseppe”)

Roberta writing about Ignazio Fegiz: “He’s one of those people it’s impossible to hate when you actually see them.”Seeing is believing. Can't decide if Roberta is generous, or one's disbelief comes from not seeing I.F but only reading about him.

Day 12

January 16, 2021 | pp. 212-228 (through “I buy black underpants so that I won’t have to wash them so often.”)

“Long, beautiful silences, full of secret words. Sudden, silly bursts of laughter. Short, inconclusive phrases. Thoughts that got tangled up and went round in circles. Hair in my eyes. That constant sense of triumphant complicity.”
“That constant sense of triumphant complicity”–strangely refreshing words capturing the essence of an extramarital affair. Perhaps only someone like Lucrezia, with illusion about love, can articulate the illusory nature of a love affair.

Day 13

January 17, 2021 | pp. 229-247 (through “I buy black underpants so that I won’t have to wash them so often.”)

“It’s an upsetting film because the white light is there the whole time, and because little by little everyone dies.”
This description of Alberico’s film is a good summary many of Ginzburg's books.

Day 14

January 18, 2021 | pp. 248-265 (through “…and anyway she doesn’t like children. Yours, Giuseppe)

Alberica: “I have his bald, dry head in front of me, as smooth as an egg. …I like his head. It’s familiar to me.” Dr. Lanzara does not occupy much space in the novel, but his familiar head gives a sense of solace not provided by family and friends.

Day 15

January 19, 2021 | pp. 248-265 (through “…and anyway she doesn’t like children. Yours, Giuseppe)

Lucrezia, imagining Piero’s return: “I had even prepared how I was going to refuse to do this—affectionately, calmly, firmly, very firmly and resolutely.”
Is it bleak or hopeful that Lucrezia is always able to see a preferable alternative to the dire reality?

Day 16

January 20, 2021 | pp. 286-303 (end)

“The house where I live now is profoundly alien to me, and it has always been.”
Change the word “house” to “life” or “world”, the statement would still be an apt summery of Giuseppe’s situation, and many others'.


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