It was the voice people wanted to hear. Taking his place at the podium, and without introduction, Nanni Moretti began to read from Natalia Ginzburg’s epistolary novel, Caro, Michele.
He did not disappoint ― his narration was expressive, intuitive, engaging. Moretti, renowned film director, actor, producer and writer, recently paid homage to Ginzburg, a key Italian literary figure of the 20th century, by bringing back to life her well loved novel, Caro Michele, in audiobook format (published by EMONS, 2016).
Joining in the March 31st celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Natalia Ginzburg’s birth was an at capacity audience at the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue; an event which featured ― in addition to special guest Nanni Moretti ― Stefania Lucamante, professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at the Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), and Valerio Magrelli, professor of French Literature at the University of Cassino (Lazio, Italy). In her welcome, Donatella Baldini, Attaché for Cultural Affairs, reminded us of the importance with which Ginzburg’s writings treat “the social dimension of language and the way language creates and shapes relationships of the family and within social settings.”
Moretti’s second reading in Italian from Caro Michele (English translation, Dear Michael, 1975) was a non-intermission of sorts, a performance during the interval of scholarly presentations that deliberated language, lexicon, the power of words, and, indubitably, within the context of an English speaking society, the challenges of translations around Ginzburg’s works.
Stefania Lucamante reflected on Ginzburg’s understanding of her vocation as presented in Il mio mestiere: “My trade is writing stories, inventive things or things that I remember all my life, but stories anyhow, which has nothing to do with culture but only memory and fantasy.” That which influenced Ginzburg – the family, the social relationships – formed the passions, the states of mind connected to the personal, and to her writing: “Our personal happiness or unhappiness, our terrestrial condition, has a great importance for the things we write. When we are happy our imagination is stronger; when we are unhappy our memory works with great vitality.”
Ginzburg wrote about people she knew rather than writing fiction. “Nulla di fantastico (not mixing anything of fiction) – reiterates Valerio Magrelli – Ginzburg embraced autobiography, not as a real journal, but to write about persons she met.” And with this brief introduction to her world and to the people with whom she interacted, we had the pleasure of listening to Moretti’s interpretation of La mia psicoanalisi, an essay from the collection Mai devi domandarmi (English translation, Never Must You Ask Me). The reading of this entertaining account of Ginzburg’s sessions with Dr. B had the audience on the edge of their seats. Though for many it hadn’t been their first exposure to the piece, it was perhaps the only opportunity they would have to hear Moretti read it.
The role of Moretti at the event was simply that of the voice; the audience was captivated by Moretti’s presence and his narration, yet they wanted more. However, there was no opportunity to dialogue with him, to ask questions about the audiobook, or to inquire about any possible affection he may have for either the novel Caro Michele or for its author Natalia Ginzburg. We were left to draw our own conclusions about the inextricable link between memory, family and the man behind the voice. The imminent U.S. release of Moretti’s latest movie, Mia madre, about the experience of loosing his mother, may provide some answers, or may just have us posit more questions.