top of page

Writer's Reviews - Family Lexicon: Natalia Ginzburg

Updated: 4 hours ago

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question.

Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.


Cover of FAMILY LEXICON (1963)  by Natalia Ginzburg


Family Lexicon (1963)

Natalia Ginzburg

The work in brief

A Family Lexicon is an autobiographical work that tells the story of the Levi family, a Jewish and anti-fascist family whose events cover a time span from the 1930s to the 1950s. The novel is divided into two parts that correspond to precise historical moments: the first covers the years leading up to World War II and the second the period following the Liberation struggle.

The protagonist and narrative voice is the author herself, the youngest daughter of the Levi family, who observes and describes the family dynamics, habits, behaviors, and personalities of her family members, the events involving them, but above all the way they communicate, the lexicon precisely. The narrative proceeds in small episodes through the memories of the protagonist who portrays the various members of her family, but also of other figures linked to the author by friendship, professional or literary relationships.

The family events, in particular, are mainly related to the Fascist period and World War II; these are dramatic events that deeply marked Ginzburg such as the killing of her husband, Leone Ginzburg, for anti-Fascist political activity, the persecution of Jews until the fall of the illusions brought by the Liberation War and the Resistance. The book also includes a recollection of Cesare Pavese and his tragic end that saw him die by suicide.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Use of a single narrative voice

  2. Use of innovative language and style

  3. How to investigate family dynamics and historical context


First and foremost, Familiar Lexicon is a true story, the story of Natalia Ginzburg, so the narrative is driven by a single voice that moves between intimate observation of family details and broader reflections on life and society at the time. This voice appears both distinctive and powerful and represents a distinct choice that pushes the narrative in a direction that distinguishes and characterizes it.

The use of first-person narration allows the author's own gaze and point of view to be represented precisely because the novel is an autobiography. Choosing to use a single narrative voice allows for a deeper and at times almost intimate connection with the reader, who thus finds himself even more involved in the story. But Familial Lexicon, and the title declares this, is also the tale of a language, of a way of speaking, communicating, of using terms and expressions in a unique way that pick up on those peculiar to the author's family, thus characterizing their members beyond measure.

Family Lexicon represents an excellent example of narrative writing, and in the novel one can grasp all of the author's skills in prose construction and draw from them to refine her own style. Natalia Ginzburg is an excellent example of knowing how to use words to create vivid pictures and deep psychological portraits of characters. Hers is simple and effective writing characterized by clear prose without excess, demonstrating how even a more linear style can be just as engaging and impactful as a more elaborate one.

Family Lexicon nevertheless remains an intimate and profound narrative that captures the essence of family relationships, the conflicting emotions and feelings that characterize the people within a family. In this sense Natalia Ginzburg managed to give a very realistic portrayal of the Italian family, she portrayed its dynamics with disarming honesty exposing its joys, tensions, affections and misunderstandings, and this authenticity made the novel a faithful reflection of the experiences of many Italian families of the time.

This kind of reciprocity allows a text to be even more engaging because it somehow triggers a kind of identification, even though it is in an autobiographical and highly personal story.

The novel focuses on the family dimension not only intimately but also and especially in the relationship that its members have with politics and especially with Fascism, the period in which the story is set, as the family is represented as a microcosm in which the contradictions and complexities proper to Italian society of the time emerge.

We could almost interpret the structure of the novel as being on two levels: on the one hand, the more intimate exploration of family dynamics and ties, such as the relationships with the other protagonists, and consequently the relationship of these with that precise historical context in which the characters are more or less involved (some of them, such as Natalia's husband Leone Ginzburg, actively participate in the Resistance against the fascist regime, others appear more defiladed, trying to avoid the events around them).

In fact, Natalia Ginzburg managed to integrate the political and social history of Italy within a family context with great skill, showing how historical events can also influence the lives of ordinary people. Therefore, it is always important to know and delve into the period in which one wants to place one's story because it is also on this, as Familiar Lexicon teaches us, that the way in which the protagonists act, relate and live, including on an emotional and personal level, depends.



Familiar Lexicon represented in the literary landscape of our country a real publishing case. Since its first publication it was acclaimed by critics while also being a great success with the public, receiving many reviews and moving a wide debate around it. This solidified Natalia Ginzburg's importance as one of the most influential voices in 20th-century Italian literature. Indeed, the novel won the Strega Prize in 1963, the year it was published by Einaudi.

Familiar Lexicon also somehow changed some of the canons and archetypes of classical fiction. One can certainly consider the novel as a realist work, precisely in its true and authentic portrayal of the author's family affairs, but Ginzburg's depiction of the Levi family manages to transcend those intimate aspects of the protagonists by becoming a collective narrative of the social and historical dynamics of our country.

For this reason, the importance of Familiar Lexicon also lies in its desire to preserve, through the narration of private memories, memory as a value and legacy for future generations. And it is precisely in this sense that literature becomes a shared heritage that belongs to everyone.

1 view


Copyright WriTribe - All rights reserved

bottom of page