The Arty Semite

Alain Elkann Remembers Mama

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Alain Elkann, born in 1950, is perhaps best known for his “Life of Moravia,” in which he was the chosen interlocutor of the famed novelist Alberto Moravia.The Jewish Italian author and journalist has also published two books of conversations with the chief rabbi emeritus of Italy, Elio Toaff, “To Be A Jew” and “The Messiah and the Jews,” both from Edizioni Bompiani.

Unfortunately, few of Elkann’s books are available in English, aside from a few short novels published by Pushkin Press. Such is also the case with Elkann’s new memoir, “Grandma Carla,” also from Bompiani, a moving elegy to his late mother which certainly merits translation.

In 1938, Elkann’s mother Carla Ovazza fled wartime fascism to Manhattan with her husband Jean-Paul Elkann, a banker and the longtime president of Paris’s Consistoire council, a leading French Jewish organization. Returning to her native Turin after the war, Ovazza renewed friendships with Primo Levi, Rabbi Toaff, and Tullia Zevi, the remarkable nonagenarian who served as president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.

In April, 2000 Carla Ovazza fell ill, and her family clustered around her Turin hospital bed. Elkann clings to family traditions at this difficult time, traveling to Rome to attend a Passover Seder with friends, speaking to Rabbi Toaff by phone, and even reading Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel “Shadows on the Hudson” in Italian translation (“Ombre sull’Hudson”). He attends a dinner hosted by Italian Jewish film producer Roberto Haggiag for Lord Weidenfeld, but anxiety about Grandma Carla, as the family calls her, persists.

Elkann is repelled by the hospital’s scientific aspect, which obviates spirituality, and refuses to consult his mother’s medical charts and test results “as if she were a refrigerator.” When she dies, Elkann feels an immediate need to visit Jerusalem after reciting the Kaddish.

A decade later, he is most proud of his mother for “being Jewish, deeply religious and observant, living amidst people of other religions, but without judging or criticizing.” A touching filial tribute to a woman now buried mere steps away from her childhood friend Primo Levi in the Cimitero Monumentale.

Watch Alain Elkann discuss his memoir of his mother:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Italian Literature, Alberto Moravia, Alain Elkann

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.