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Happiness, as Such

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  971 ratings  ·  118 reviews
At the heart of Happiness, as Such is an absence—an abyss that pulls everyone to its brink—created by a family’s only son, Michele, who has fled from Italy to England to escape the dangers and threats of his radical political ties. This novel is part epistolary: his mother writes letters to him, nagging him; his sister Angelica writes, missing him; so does Mara, his former ...more
Paperback, 162 pages
Published June 25th 2019 by New Directions (first published 1973)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Caro Michele = Dear Michele, Natalia Ginzburg
Dear Michele is an epistolary novel written by Natalia Ginzburg in 1973. Michele is a twenty-three year old in 1970. His story, that of some family members and some of their acquaintances, is told through the letters that his mother, sister and his former flame sent him to the various addresses that the boy lives in months. Michele is a boy who is a bit disbanded, much appreciated by his father and very little by his mother, ...
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mara, in a letter about her lover, “the Pelican”: ”I realize that I wrote ‘our room’ because it was ‘our room’ for a time and we were so happy, me and him. If there is such a thing as happiness, that was it. Only it didn’t last long. You see, happiness doesn’t last long. Everyone knows that.” (p. 142)

And “the Pelican”, in a letter to Mara: ”I wish you all the best opportunities for the future and I wish you happiness if there is such a thing as happiness. I don’t believe there is, but other
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and am planning on reading everything Ginzburg has written as soon as possible. Told mainly (though not exclusively) through letters, this novel generally is about the communications/relationships between an Italian young man, Michele, who fled Italy due to his political involvement and the other people in his life. While the backdrop is fleeing a country due to politics, many of the communications are delightful and funny. Ginzburg's language is simple, sharp, and observant of ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
“and I don’t know why I feel that way, but not everything a person feels has to have an explanation, and to be perfectly honest I don’t believe that obligations should have explanations. I think we will send you money periodically. Not that money will solve anything, since you’re alone, broke, unsettled, and unreliable. But we’re all unreliable and broken somewhere inside and sometimes it seems desperately attractive to be unrooted and breathing nothing but your own solitude. That’s how people ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
this book was essentially the literary equivalent of those SNL "war in words" sketches (example) (example). and that's not a complaint.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Almost every character did my head in but this is the best of Ginzburg’s work I’ve read so far.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another read for my literature in translation book discussion group. It's an Italian novel told largely (but not entirely) through letters, centering around a dysfunctional family whose persistent unhappiness makes their rare happy moments stand out in interesting ways. The characters are wonderful, believable train wrecks enmeshed with each other in alternating waves of affection, anxiety, sorrow, and disgust. I ended up really enjoying it, much more than I would have initially expected based ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
First written in Italy in the '70's but only recently translated into English, this primarily epistolary novel is a genuine pleasure to read. It centers around Michele, a young man who abruptly fled Italy due to concerns about his radical activism, but who appears only via few, brief letters written to his friends and family.

The letters written to Michele or to each other from his mother, sister, best friend and former lover, combined with brief narrative passages, paint a much more thorough
Ali Lafferty
Good book, sort of a plot that doesn't go anywhere though. And all of the female characters were annoying to me; I get that this is a "matriarchal book" though and the power of these annoying females means a lot in the world of the late 1900s in Italy where the power of men was focused on all too often. So it was a good idea and I like the sparse writing style of Ginzburg, but the characters drove me crazy.
Aug 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Sometimes comic and often simply sad. Deftly drawn characters in this epistolary novel of what remains unsaid.
gah! this is excellent. it is a family drama translated from italian & published this year. it concentrates on a web of family relationships centering around michele who has fled the country for political reasons/ties. this family does not mince words! the matriarch is next level at guilt-tripping & i am deceased. but it is also remarkable in the way it shows that a family can love each other & be enmeshed but still not really know one another. there is something to be said for the ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Would give it 3.5 stars... I didn’t dislike it, so 3 stars are not warranted, but then I also didn’t particularly like it. I didn’t feel like the book was giving me much apart from a way to pass the time while on the tube.

Technically, I would call it an epistolary novel, but some parts of it are actually just regular prose. I feel like this has not been consistently done, as the parts that were “normal” fiction, did not provide the reader with any hidden motivations or feelings that couldn’t
Ayala Levinger
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book already something like 10 +/- years ago. I remembered it was funny and sad at the same time.
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Happiness, and Such is a solid Natalia Ginzburg novel. That said, I've read her novel The Dry Heart, which is more compelling and shattering. Happiness, and Such cleverly weaves the lives of a dozen characters and the result is somewhat entertaining. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of the epistolary form, it made for a page-turning read.
Jonathan yates
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This writer should be a household name
Sep 10, 2019 rated it liked it
An epistolary novel comprised of letters among family with the absent son, Michele at the center. It’s a black comedy, sometimes laugh out loud funny when reading how outrageously blunt family can be but also sad. All the characters seem defeated to varying degrees. There’s a lot to be said about happiness here- how we chase after it and rarely hold onto it. Only three stars because there is not much plot here and when there is action I felt unprepared for it. Ginzburg is known for her direct, ...more
Nov 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italian
Enjoyable read where Italian wasn't too hard (due to form being exchange of letters) - and yet the characters, their attitudes and the story was interesting and sympathetic, and naturally gives an idea of the way of things during the 70's (as it was written there).

We discover the events of Michel's life, and its effect on others, and the forces at play within the structure of his family group (mother, sisters, father etc), together with some quite big confessional bombshells in the letters.
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Natalia Ginzburg is growing to be one of my favorite authors! I usually don't like epistolary novels (despite being a letter writer myself), but I loved this little book. In typical Ginzburg fashion, she made me laugh despite breaking my heart. She has such good insights into the essence of human soul!
Tim Parks
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the books that most moved me when I was learning Italian
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deeply sad, and so very human. Surprisingly insightful, far more than I had expected. A brilliant gem.
Giorgia Battaglia
I thought it was better. Letters and letters, but what about the plan? Nothing happens till the end... unusual. Cool, but not that much.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While reading this, my first Natalia Ginzburg book in quite a while, I had a nagging sense that it was a book I'd read before. (I fell for Ginzburg in my 20s after the mom gave me Family Sayings; every time I was in a used book store I search for copies of her out-of-print books.) The tragic turn of the novel finally triggered my memory - this was previously translated as No Way. Why both translated titles bear so little resemblance to the original (Caro Michele) is mysterious.

I've seen a few
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
If I could have found the time to read this year, it would have been only for books about this size. It was a nice companion on my currently short train ride - about 15-20 minutes. A big change from when I used to live in Camberville.

I love the cover. Both the feel and the look. I bought it a few days before it officially came out at a nice little bookstore, that will remain anonymous, in case they get in trouble. I was in New York City when I got it. I was so excited. It was a monumental
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Honestly, this may be in my top 5 reads of the year. "Happiness, as Such" is not a new book. Originally printed in Italy in 1973, the narrative is a mix of narration and letters. It is set in the early 1970s with an Italian man named Michele living in England due to political strife in his home country of Italy. The non-letter sections provide context of the characters and setting. The dialogue contained in those sections are wonderful and precise. It feels like eavesdropping. The letters are ...more
Andrew Bertaina
First off, I adore Natalia Ginzburg, who I consider to be a genius writer. This particular book, mostly comprised of letters between a mother, her son, his lover, and his sisters, is simultaneously funny and sad. The foibles of the characters are all robustly on display, their prejudices and small-mindedness along with a recognition that they are trying to attend to their own private joys as well.

For instance, the mother,

I'm sending you hugs and wish you happiness, if there is such a thing as
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Restive Michele does a disappearing act when his radical political affiliations threaten his life. His activities have left a tangled web in which his family is left to try and exterminate the effects. With all the tools to have had a better life with his daughter and wife, he chooses to be a lazy piece of work, leaving family and friends in an uproar while attempting to scoop of the mound of crap he has made.

Between his mother's unguarded letters to him and a somewhat ex-girlfriend whose
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've wanted to read NG for years, but never got around to it until I found this 2019 translation of Caro Michele. Originally published in 1973 it is part of the last generation of novels in a convincingly epistolary style. (Who writes pages of letters after the rise of the internet?) It's quite charming, with a diverse cast of letter writers focused largely on the absence of Michele, a 20-something who flees Rome near the start of the novel. Why does he leave? a dippy pregnant girlfriend? a ...more
Jill Olswanger
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This odd, tragi-comic book takes place over the course of 10 months in the life of an Italian family- with the errant son and his extended circle of friends and acquaintances as the hub. The theme is the transitory nature of happiness, which Ginzburg examines through relationships of father/son, mother/son, siblings, divorce, politics, money, love, parenting. Not sure why Ginzburg chose a mostly epistolary style- perhaps to give each character their own voice, although the voices really don't ...more
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gornick’s UNFINISHED BUSINESS reminded me that I needed to read more Ginzburg and was she ever right! This largely epistolary novel is one caustic, brutally honest, and funny examination of a family in Italy during the early 1970s. No further description is needed. The writing is direct and laser sharp. You can keep Elena Ferrante; I’m going to put my chips on the table and say that I prefer Natalia Ginzburg. That said, who said anyone has to play favorites? This is just to stress how amazing I ...more
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I laughed out loud at some moments. The voices are specific and clear, especially Adriana's and Mara's. It's an epistolary work, so my attention lagged at times, due to that structure. I do wish my mind didn't work that way. Alas. Getting to know these characters and their trials through their letters felt like a view through a keyhole into their world. The cumulative effect of the letters has quite an emotional weight. Not a word was wasted by Ginzburg. Much praise to the translator - that's ...more
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Italian novelist, essayist, translator and playwright, who has written of her unconventional family and its opposition in Turin to Fascist oppression. Ginzburg's novels are a mixture of reminiscence, observation, and invention. Her novel Lessico famigliare (Family sayings) won the Strega Prize in 1963. Much of her fiction is written in the first person in a plain style, and constructed almost ...more
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“Ma non si amano soltanto le memorie felici. A un certo punto della vita, ci si accorge che si amano le memorie.” 2 likes
“Ma è vero che a un certo punto della nostra vita i rimorsi li inzuppiamo nel caffè la mattina come biscotti.” 0 likes
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