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the Complete Review
the complete review - interviews

It's Hard to Talk About Yourself

Natalia Ginzburg

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To purchase It's Hard to Talk About Yourself

Title: It's Hard to Talk About Yourself
Author: Natalia Ginzburg
Genre: Interviews
Written: (1999) (Eng. 2003)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: It's Hard to Talk About Yourself - US
It's Hard to Talk About Yourself - UK
It's Hard to Talk About Yourself - Canada
'Es fällt schwer, von sich selbst zu sprechen (...)' - Deutschland
  • Italian title: È difficile parlare di sé
  • Translated by Louise Quirke
  • Edited by Cesare Garboli and Lisa Ginzburg
  • Interviews first broadcast in May 1990 on Radio Tre.

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Our Assessment:

B : decent introduction to Ginzburg

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 6/2004 Robert Boyers
The NY Sun . 3/12/2003 Rachel Donadio
TLS . 20/2/2004 Peter Hainsworth
The Village Voice . 4/11/2003 Angela Starita

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although here and there Ginzburg pauses for reflection, for the long, considered view (...), much of the book has the feel of improvisation. The writer wishes to share everything that comes to mind, to tell her stories, one after another, and does so with a pungency that seems to us natural, without affectation, and we see at once that the shaping imagination is very much in control of the onrushing narrative." - Robert Boyers, Harper's

  • "While engaging and thought-provoking on many levels, this volume is marred by some careless translation errors. (...) Still, the errors are only minor blemishes in an otherwise significant collection, one whose arrival in English provides a valuable resource to readers trying to make sense of 20th-century Italian literature and history." - Rachel Donadio, The New York Sun

  • "It's Hard To Talk about Yourself turns the transcript into somewhat Italianate English, with the interruptions and digressions, the "Hello"s and "How are you ?"s, that the original Italian edition would probably have done well to edit out. It is worth reading for the refreshing image of Natalia Ginzburg that emerges. She submits more or less courteously to the domineering interviewer, but when her old boss Giulio Einaudi, and her old friend from 1930s anti-Fascist circles, the immensely respected Vittorio Foa, try to settle for a few dull compliments and commonplaces, she lays out her disagreements with them with impressive clarity and pugnacity." - Peter Hainsworth, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It's Hard to Talk About Yourself (...) reveals the Italian writer's fear -- at times, downright terror -- of using the first person: a serious dilemma for a woman who felt equally unable to write in what she calls the "true" third person." - Angela Starita, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       It's Hard to Talk About Yourself is a transcript of four radio broadcasts devoted to Natalia Ginzburg, first broadcast in Italy in 1990 (the year before her death). These are conversations more than interviews: Marino Sinibaldi leads them, but a variety of guests also engage in conversation (some live in the studio, some via telephone) with Ginzburg on the various topics being discussed -- which, in this book version, have been divided into seven separate chapters ("The Plays", "Politics", etc.). In addition, lengthy excerpts from Ginzburg's work (and a few excerpts from others' work) are also offered.
       The English edition differs slightly from the Italian original:

The Italian edition reproduces the text of the broadcasts exactly as they were recorded in the Rai (major Italian TV and radio network) studios. The English-language edition has been lightly edited for the Anglophone reader.
       It's unclear what has been cut; there are still a few exchanges that are a bit mystifying, and the whole feel of the dialogues is very much of quite free-wheeling conversation (which isn't all bad).
       Natalia Ginzburg is among the greatest contemporary Italian authors, and she also led an interesting life. She married Leone Ginzburg in 1938, and though he died in 1944 that relationship had lasting effects. One of the major ones was that Leone co-founded the great publishing house Einaudi, and Natalia would work as an editor and translator there for many years. Among her many accomplishments was the first Proust translation into Italian ("it was a mad idea to give me this translation", she admits, though she seems to have pulled it off well enough). As a Jew in Italy she suffered during World War II; always associated with a very political crowd she also eventually served two terms in the Italian parliament.
       The conversations are fairly well guided by Sinibaldi, as he moves from one focus to the next, bringing in conversation partners who can shed light on particular aspects of Ginzburg's life and work, or reading either from commentaries or from her work itself. It is the work-excerpts (and some of the criticism), samples from Ginzburg's entire output, that also make this a decent general introduction to her work. Among many others, Eugenio Montale is quoted at considerable length, including his assessment that:
I would say that every page of Ginzburg is instantly recognizable for its delicacy and a touch so light it is almost insignificant, for her capacity to imitate not so much the voice of whoever is talking so much as the cadenza of his chatter.
       Ginzburg's reactions to the comments about her and her work are also particularly revealing. Fascinating also: how she evolved as a writer, which is captured quite well here.
       The conversations do have an air of familiarity: everybody here knows Ginzburg's works well, and as many of those involved are friends and colleagues they're familiar with her life and personality too. It leaves those who haven't read her work (or know her biography) a bit out of the loop; the excerpts (and a few of the footnotes) do help fill in blanks, and some of the more general comments don't require this background knowledge, but it's certainly a much more appealing book for those who can share in the familiarity.
       Though carefully put together -- the choice of excerpts and topics, the questions that are asked -- for the most part It's Hard to Talk About Yourself still reads like a radio-show. Among the strengths is that feel of immediacy: Ginzburg says what occurs to her at that moment, rather than offering carefully honed and rehearsed responses. But it's also a somewhat rough introduction to the author.
       Worthwhile for the insights into her character, a few biographical details, and especially her relationships with those who participate (such as Vittorio Foa, or Giulio Einaudi (clearly not an entirely rosy relationship)), It's Hard to Talk About Yourself should be of considerable interest to Ginzburg fans. It also offers a decent if too-brief glimpse of the Einaudi publishing house, including some discussion of the great Cesare Pavese as well as Italo Calvino. The book is also a decent introduction for those unfamiliar with Ginzburg's work, but doesn't fully convey the woman and her accomplishments.

       The notes provided are generally helpful, but it might have been wiser to offer a separate, alphabetical 'cast of characters'-list with the brief biographies of all the names mentioned rather than offering these in the endnotes. Several important figures are not explained at all (Pitigrilli, for example), and while the index is good with reference to the text proper it inadequately deals with the notes: several references do not lead readers to the correct page, e.g. Elio Vittorini's mini-biography is not at, as one might think from the index, "196n15" but rather 195n25. (Note also that the notes for chapter four -- or rather the single note -- was entirely omitted.)

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It's Hard to Talk About Yourself: Reviews: Natalia Ginzburg: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1991) was a leading Italian author.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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