La Stampa, ]uly 14, 1971

Dear Alberto,

It's true: I am a coward. The other night,
at dinner, I neglected to tell you how much
I detest your latest novel. Had you asked me,
I would have found a way to say something not
exactly false, but less than true: You've done it again!
A tour de force! But your thoughts were already
elsewhere, in Persia perhaps, or Turkey, where
your translators would soon greet you, whirling
at the airport with garlands and rare oils, adoring dervishes
ready to anoint you their new byzantine king.

Great One, Monolith
                                —ormai amico dopo tanti anni—
you still frighten me. Impatient mentor, enormous
nourisher: your power paralyzes. I owe you
my honesty, but I shrink from the physical you.
Forgive me this public confession.

Now that you are away in Arabia with an Arab,
I'll tell you what I think, here, in the newspaper.
They say a public place is always best
for the most intimate fights. Yesterday
I overheard a pair of estranged lovers at the corner
rosticceria as they hammered out the terms of their separation
while the waiter served them antipasto, polenta, osso bucco.
The civility of eating taming the occasion.
                                                                Aglio e origano, basilico
e pomodoro, would that you could flavor my words.

Alberto, you have lost your way—you, our dopoguerra
   beacon.
Publicity, that siren, has seduced you.
You have not only written a bad book;
you have betrayed your vocation.
You say the book's a comedy. It is not.
I hear no laughter here, only the inexorable grind of
   contrivance.

This book is a lie. It has no truths or truth.

False muse, get thee gone;
free the famous from his fame.

You will say that you worked five years to produce
this work, and I should grant you that. To which I answer:
five years writing are five years of pleasure.
Your reward is in the doing.

I am. not unduly harsh.

Understand me: this is a love letter.
My criticism, my embrace.
You are the Original, I the copy.

You are evaporating, Alberto. Stop before you disappear!
You were always the most limpid, genuine, of men.
Now this persona studs
your soul like so many rhinestones.

Adorned one, adored one.

This crassness in you confuses.
This magazine self, the one
in the interviews, devours the serious core.

Conformista, Indifferente.

Come back.

This is my slap. Cry now to show me you breathe.

                                                As always,
                                                Natalia Ginzburg
                                                Rome