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Two novellas about family life and fraudsters by one of the twentieth century's best Italian novelists.
Valentino and Sagittarius are two of Natalia Ginzburg’s most celebrated works: tales of love, hope, and delusion that are full of her characteristic mordant humor, keen psychological insight, and unflinching moral realism.
Valentino is the spoiled child of doting parents, who have no doubt that their handsome young son will prove “a man of consequence.” Nothing that Valentino does—his nights out on the town, his failed or incomplete classes—suggests there is any ground for that confidence, and Valentino’s sisters view their parents and brother with a mixture of bitterness, stoicism, and bemusement. Everything becomes that much more confused when, out of the blue, Valentino finds an enterprising, wealthy, and strikingly ugly wife, who undertakes to support not just him but the whole family.
Sagittarius is another story of misplaced confidence recounted by a wary daughter, whose mother, a grass widow with time on her hands, moves to the suburbs, eager to find new friends. Brassy, bossy, and perpetually dissatisfied, especially when it comes to her children, she strikes up a friendship with the mysterious Scilla, and soon the two women are planning to open an art gallery. But knowing better than everyone, it turns out, is not that different from knowing nothing at all.
About the Author
Natalia Ginzburg (1916–1991) was born Natalia Levi in Sicily, the daughter of a Jewish biologist father and a Catholic mother. She grew up in Turin, in a household that was a salon for antifascist activists, intellectuals, and artists, and published her first short stories at the age of eighteen; she would go on to become one of the most important and widely taught writers in Italy, taking up the themes of oppression, family, and social change. In 1938, she married Leone Ginzburg, a prominent writer, activist, and editor. In 1940, the fascist government exiled the Ginzburgs and their children to a remote village. After the fall of Mussolini, Leone fled to Rome, where he was arrested by Nazi authorities and tortured to death. Natalia married Gabriele Baldini, an English professor, in 1950, and spent the next three decades in Rome, London, and Turin, writing dozens of novels, plays, and essay. NYRB Classics is the publisher of her novel Family Lexicon and two novellas, Valentino and Sagittarius.
Avril Bardoni (1936–2017) was a translator of opera libretti and literature, most notably from the Italian. Among the authors whose work she translated were Leonardo Sciascia, Susanna Tamaro, and Romana Petri. In 1986 she was awarded the John Florio Prize for the translation of a work of contemporary Italian literature into English for Sciascia’s The Wine-Dark Sea (available as an NYRB Classic).
Cynthia Zarin’s books include The Ada Poems, Orbit, An Enlarged Heart: A Personal History, Two Cities, and several books for children. She teaches at Yale.
"[Ginzburg's] observations are swift and exact, usually irradiated by an unruly and often satirical humor. The instrument with which she writes is fine, wonderfully flexible and keen, and the quality of her attention is singular. The voice is. . . entrancing and alarming, elegantly streamlined by the authority of a powerful intelligence." —Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books
"Ginzburg gives us a new template for the female voice and an idea of what it might sound like." —Rachel Cusk, The Times Literary Supplement
“A glowing light of modern Italian literature . . . Ginzburg’s magic is the utter simplicity of her prose, suddenly illuminated by one word that makes a lightning stroke of a plain phrase . . . As direct and clean as if it were carved in stone, it yet speaks thoughts of the heart.” —Kate Simon, The New York Times
“The raw beauty of Ginzburg’s prose compels our gaze. First we look inward, with the shock of recognition inspired by all great writing, and then, inevitably, out at the shared world she evokes with such uncompromising clarity.” —Hilma Wolitzer
“There is no one quite like Ginzburg for telling it like it is. Her unique, immediately recognizable voice is at once clear and shaded, artless and sly, able to speak of the deepest sorrows and smallest pleasures of everyday life.” —Phillip Lopate