Books of the Year 2022 Part 1

All Our Yesterdays – Natalia Ginzburg (1952) translated by Angus Davidson

Author of numerous short novels / novellas (take your pick), All Our Yesterdays is, I suspect, Natalia Ginzburg’s longest novel. Set in 1930s Italy, it tells the country’s story – and the rise of fascism in particular – through the story of one family. It displays all the skill with which Ginzburg generally portrays family relationships but with national narrative in the background – history through a domestic lens. Comical at times, but also moving, I can’t agree with many reviewers that Anne is the main character as this feels like an injustice to its wider cast. For all the wonder of her miniature masterpieces, this is surely her crowning achievement.

Whole Days in the Trees – Marguerite Duras (1954) translated by Anita Burrows

This year I read some of Marguerite Duras’ early work: her novel, The Little Horse of Tarqinia, and her short story collection, Whole Days in the Trees. Both impressed me, and I was particularly taken with the variety on offer in Whole Days in the Trees, as well as the sympathetic portrayal of older women. Though both ‘The Boa’ and ‘The Building Site’ feature the sexual curiosity of adolescent girls, the former has a counterpoint the ageing teacher who has never been loved. The title story portrays the difficult relationship of a young man and his mother, with Duras taking no sides, and ‘Madame Dodin’ is the love story of a middle-aged concierge and a binman. Duras’ keen observation of human behaviour, and ability to reveal her characters surreptitiously through small moments, is clear to see.

Death in Rome – Wolfgang Koeppen (1954) translated by Micheal Hofmann

Wolfgang Koeppen’s Pigeons on the Grass, the first in a loose trilogy, was one of my favourite novels of 2021, and so naturally I followed it up by reading not the second volume but the third, Death in Rome (luckily each book stands alone). It, similarly, tells its story via a cast of alternating characters, though here they are members of the one family. Where Pigeons on the Grass took place in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, here some time has passed, but the repercussions continue. Koeppen skilfully weaves the various strands into an intricate tapestry which gathers narrative force as the novel progresses. (Expect the second volume to feature next year…)

The Life Before Us – Romain Gary (1975) translated by Ralph Manheim

Alongside Marguerite Duras, I have also been exploring another French writer now sadly neglected in English, Romain Gary, reading both The Life Before Us and Lady L. The former is the more affecting novel, though there is much to admire in the darkly amusing Lady L. The Life Before Us was the novel with which Gary won the Prix Goncourt for the second time, having published it under a different name. The novel is the story of the relationship between an orphan, Momo, and an ex-prostitute. Madame Rosa. Despite the harsh environment which both have experienced, and the need to develop a tough exterior, the love between them becomes clearer as the novel progresses, and what could have been a bleak tale of poverty becomes something beautiful.

Dawn – Sevgi Soysal (1975) translated by Maureen Freely

Turkish writer Sevgi Soysal was completely unknown to me until earlier this year when I read this new translation of her fourth (and final) novel, Dawn. Set a time of political repression, it centres on a police raid during which the novel’s characters are arrested and then taken to the local police station to be interrogated. Many of them are related, including the two brothers Mustafa and Huseyin, one of whom has recently been released from prison. Another former prisoner, Oya, is the only woman to be taken. Soysal moves effortlessly between the thoughts and stories of the various characters, providing a detailed and unsettling picture of life in a police state



13 Responses to “Books of the Year 2022 Part 1”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Some really interesting choices, Grant – look forward to seeing what comes up in the next part(s)!

  2. Lisa Hill Says:

    I can see that I’m going to have to have a little spendathon on Natalia Ginzburg…

  3. Tony Says:

    Ginzburg’s a writer I’ve often thought about trying, but never quite got around to – maybe next year…

  4. Claire 'Word by Word' Says:

    A great set of novels that all sound intriguing to me. And a new Turkish author I wasn’t aware of.

  5. JacquiWine Says:

    Lovely to see All Our Yesterdays here, Grant! It felt like the Ginzburg I’d been waiting to read for the last couple of years, such a richly textured portrait of family life set against the turbulence of war.

    I can see that I’m going to have to try Wolfgang Koeppen at some point – you’re making a very strong case for him. (I still remember the cover of the Pigeon one from your post last year!)

  6. Caroline Says:

    I’ve only read one of Ginzburg’s novels and liked it very much. This sounds very good. We read Gary’s book La vie devant soi in school and I can still remember it, it was that good. Looks like a good reading year.

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