Benjamin Ivry in The Forward:
A collection of essays by the profoundly original, intellectually wide-ranging, Italian-Jewish historian Carlo Ginzburg underlines the influence of Yiddishkeit on his achievement. “Threads and Traces: True False Fictive,” published recently by University of California Press, is an illuminating collection of chapters, deftly translated from the original Italian by Anne C. and John Tedeschi.
An omnivorous analyst of artistic and human history, Ginzburg offers innovative ideas on a startling variety of texts and art forms, somewhat in the manner of Swiss-Jewish literary historian Jean Starobinski. Like Starobinski, who is of Polish-Jewish origin, Ginzburg can seem like a one-man team of readers and researchers, so profound is his erudition.
The wellspring of his inspiration is his Judaism. In the preface to his 1999 study, “History, Rhetoric, and Proof,” originally given as the Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures and hosted by the Historical Society of Israel, Ginzburg wrote: “I am a Jew who was born and grew up in a Catholic country; I never had a religious education; my Jewish identity is in large measure the result of persecution.”
Ginzburg’s father, Odessa-born philologist, historian and anti-fascist activist Leone Ginzburg, was arrested by Italian police and tortured to death in a Roman prison in 1944. At the time, his son Carlo, born in Turin, was 5 years old. Yet he retains clear memories of the central Italian town of Pizzoli, where his family had previously hid with his non-Jewish maternal grandmother, Lidia Tanzi. Ginzburg’s mother was noted author Natalia Ginzburg, born Levi. In 1941, Leone Ginzburg wrote a letter to historian Luigi Salvatorelli to describe how, despite imprisonments and persecution, domestic life temporarily continued; “evenings, when the children have been put to bed,” he and Natalia would sit opposite each other at a table, both busy with literary work: “These are our best times.”