For a Jewish Italian Literary History: from Italo Svevo to Igiaba Scego

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This article argues that recognizing Jewishness as a crucial part of modern Italian literary history offers one path for discussing the current and historical diversity of Italian culture. The first section discusses key twentieth-century Italian authors — Giorgio Bassani, Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi, Elsa Morante, and Italo Svevo — not to assess how Jewish they are, but to illuminate the Jewishness of modern Italian literature, which prompts a reconsideration of the construction of Italian identity. The second section, “Jewish, Black, and Italian: The Archival Fictions of Helena Janeczeck, Claudio Magris, and Igiaba Scego,” scrutinizes how these three authors interrogate Italy’s role in the persecution of Jews, racial violence, and colonialism, drawing on historical documents that show the gaps in dominant discourses and asking readers to reflect on how historical narratives have been constructed. Being more cognizant of Jewish Italians, their backgrounds, and their representations in literature contributes to the growing analyses of Italy’s diversity, adding to examinations of Italian literature that focus on belonging, borders, migration, and colonialism.






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Ziolkowski, SE (2022). For a Jewish Italian Literary History: from Italo Svevo to Igiaba Scego. Italian Culture. pp. 1–23. 10.1080/01614622.2022.2088955 Retrieved from

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Saskia Ziolkowski

Associate Professor of Romance Studies


I work on Italian literature and culture from a comparative perspective, especially in terms of the connections between Italy and German-language countries. My research topics include modernism, the novel, animal studies, world literature, Jewish studies, migration, literary history, and issues of identity. My book Kafka’s Italian Progeny (University of Toronto Press, awarded the American Association of Italian Studies 2020 Book Prize in Literary Studies) explores Franz Kafka’s sometimes surprising connections with key writers — from Massimo Bontempelli, Lalla Romano, and Italo Calvino to Antonio Tabucchi, Paola Capriolo, and Elena Ferrante — who have shaped Italy’s literary landscape. I am currently working on a monograph on  Jewishness in modern Italian literature and co-directing the Global Jewish Modernism Lab with Kata Gellen.

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