Bookpage

THE HOLD LIST: BINGE-READ A NEW SERIES

Posted by Cat, Deputy Editor on January 01, 2018

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
There’s a good chance you’ve already received recommendations for Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet from gushy friends, fervent booksellers and rhapsodic librarians. So no more excuses: Read it now, because chances are, you’ll love every soapy Italian moment. Plus, Ferrante is handling the screenplay for HBO’s forthcoming adaptation, so your Neapolitan infatuation may continue indefinitely.

The Millions

Return of the Ferrante

“According to an interview with her publishers in the Italian literary newsletter Il Libraio, translated in The GuardianFerrante is putting pen to paper once more.” A year after Elena Ferrante‘s alleged true identity was revealed by a journalist, the intensely-private author is writing again but has no plans to publish a novel in 2018. Pair with: staff writer Marie Myung-Ok Lee‘s essay on Ferrante, privacy, and woman writers.

Iris Lilian

The Vacation Book List You Never Knew You Needed

4. Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

As you might know, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and there has been widespread speculation over who Ferrante really is, although she is widely believed to have been unmasked by the New York Review of Books in 2016, a move which was heavily criticised by Ferrante’s readers as unnecessary and an invasion of her privacy.

Days of Abandonment, published in Italian in 2002, predates her more famous books, the Neapolitan Novels. However, for me, it was the book that woke me up to her writing and led me to notice Italian writing.

In Days of Abandonment, Mario tells his wife Olga that he is leaving her. She soon finds out that he is living with his new girlfriend, a much younger woman. The book describes the days that follow Mario’s departure. It starts with Olga’s inability to comprehend that her husband, the father of her children, has ceased to love her.

Through the course of the book, Ferrante brilliantly portrays the frantic churning of an ‘abandoned’ woman’s mind. In fact, I found her writing so furious and unsettling that 50 pages or so in, I had to put the book away for a few days to see if I still wanted to read it. I did pick it up again.

This is not a long book, so it is a good one for a flight or to read in a day or two. (188 pp. Europa Editions)

World Literature Today

World Literature Today’s 75 Notable Translations of 2017

December 12, 2017
by Michelle Johnson

Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia, trans. Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)

Looking back on 2017, it’s easy to declare the year a success for literary translation, which continued to thrive and move in exciting new directions. Of note, Emily Wilson translated The Odyssey into English. The first woman to do so, she gave the “epic a radically contemporary voice.” Following up last year’s The Seamstress and the Wind, And Other Stories brought out three new English translations of César Aira’s work—no doubt pleasing Patti Smith and many other eager readers. And three new books about translation enriched the conversation: Kate Briggs’s This Little Art, Mireille Gansel’s Translation as Transhumance, and Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries, edited by Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer.

Resisting again the temptation to expand our list, we offer an admittedly incomplete collection of the year’s English translations and invite you to add your favorites in the comments. You can also share those you’re most eagerly anticipating in 2018 by using the hashtag #2018Reads on Twitter and Facebook. Are you looking forward to Aslı Erdoğan’s The Stone Building and Other Places? Or Julián Herbert’s Tomb Song? Dubravka Ugrešić’s Fox? Let us know.

Thank you for being in conversation with us this past year. We look forward to continuing to serve as your passport to great global reading in 2018.

Núvol

La maternitat maligna d’Elena Ferrante

10.12.2017

La filla fosca és una novel·la torbadora sobre la maternitat, no apte per a dones embarassades però de prescripció facultativa per a qualsevol home o dona, sobretot si té la intenció de ser mare.

Publicada a Navona per Pere Sureda (que ara s’acaba de destapar amb una nova traducció castellana d’El conde de Montecristo) aquesta és la tercera entrega de la trilogia Cròniques del mal d’amor d’Elena Ferrante, enigmàtica autora italiana més coneguda a casa nostra per la tetralogia que va arrencar amb L’amiga genial, publicada a La Campana. Navona també ha publicat separadament les tres novel·les que componen la trilogia, L’amor que molesta i Els dies de l’abandonament, totes esplèndidament traduïdes per Anna Carreras.

La filla fosca és una novel·la sobre la malignitat que pot arribar a niar en la maternitat. Escrita en primera persona, la protagonista, Leda, és una professora divorciada que decideix passar les vacances en un poblet de la costa del mar Jònic, on lloga un apartament minúscul tota sola després que les seves dues filles, ja adultes, hagin optat per abandonar-la i traslladar-se a viure amb el seu pare a Canadà. Leda és una persona amb una capacitat d’introspecció vertiginosa, i una necessitat d’autocontrol extrema, unes virtuts que no impedeixen que sovint prengui decisions dràstiques i irreparables.

Durant les seves vacances, Leda passa el dia a la platja, sense relacionar-se pràcticament amb ningú. Un bon dia entaula una relació amb una família sorollosa del sud. Segueix amb atenció els moviments de Nina, una dona atractiva, i la seva filla Elena, que tot el dia juga amb una nina. Leda mantindrà amb aquestes persones una relació en principi superficial, amb una complexa alternança de simpatia i antipatia. El contacte, intermitent, esdevindrà absorbent a partir del moment que, en un rampell inexplicable, Leda decideix robar la nina de la petita Elena.

No es tracta d’una nina qualsevol, sinó de la nina de la nina d’una família. Estem parlant d’aquell element que el psicoanalista Donald Winnicott va definir com a ‘objecte transicional’, que permet a l’infant confrontar l’angoixa que li comporta separar-se gradualment de la mare.

La filla fosca és també la història d’aquesta nina, una nina que es convertirà en un ostatge custodiat per Leda i que acabarà sent el detonant d’un conflicte que es manté latent al llarg de tota la novel·la. El segrest de la nina és l’expressió d’una maternitat robada, la que la mateixa Leda va robar a les seves pròpies filles i a ella mateixa el dia que va decidir abandonar-les.

Aquest rampell furtiu de robar una nina, que ella mateixa no s’acaba d’explicar, es converteix en el gest fundacional de la novel·la, el que destapa en el seu interior una llarga confessió que acaba imantant totes les èpoques de la seva vida. Ferrante fa un estudi psicològic d’una profunditat que ens devora. En una imatge torbadora, Leda descriu el seu segon part com una expulsió que és també una autoexpulsió. Ferrante explica de manera convicent com la maternitat pot fer sortir el pitjor de l’interior d’una dona. La descripció de l’experiència de la maternitat, lluny de tota idealització, és expremuda amb tota la complexitat per extreure’n el suc de la malignitat. Imprescindible.

Little Buddha Blog

My 2017 in Fiction. Neil Gaiman, Elena Ferrante, Graeme Simsion and others

Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, not a real name. And that mystery brings up a lot of emotional discussions about the real person behind it and the nature of the books. Some think it’s an autobiography, some even argue that the writer is male, which I find hard to believe having read her books. But everybody agrees that once you start reading her Neapolitan Novels, it’s impossible to break away.

The beginning of the first book disappointed me as it is written in kind of a crude childish manner. The story is set in a poor and run-down neighbourhood of Naples, full of violence. Two friends, the schoolgirls Elena Greko and Lila Cerullo, dream, read books and plan their way out of this little and limited community,  they were born into.

The protagonist, Elena Greko, annoyed me all the way to the middle of the first book. She didn’t have any self-esteem, didn’t defend her personal borders, her best friend Lila manipulated her every way possible. But the style of storytelling changed as the heroines grew up and their view of the world developed. The deep voice and the great narration of Hilary Huber, reading the text of English translation of the novel, also dragged me in.

Only much later, when I read about the earthquake in Naples I realised why so many things in this book attracted me and pushed me away the same time. I saw the scenes of the earthquake for real – the crowds of people, the destruction, the overall life put to halt for a long time – I saw it all in Armenia when I was a little child. This whole environment in the book reminded me the small town in Armenia where I spent the first years of my childhood. I was lucky in a way. Having been born to an academic family, I didn’t have to fight for the right to get an education as Elena did. But a lot of the attributes of the environment seemed familiar either from my own memories or from stories told by my parents and relatives.

So the days passed, and I couldn’t get myself away from the audiobooks, listening every moment in the car, every second when my little one was asleep or played on his own on the playground. 4 books, almost 70 hours of audio, I fully immersed in the world of Elena and I realised, why it attracted so many readers. It shows naked feelings, feelings that hurt deeply and keep alive. The heroine has an amazing understanding of those feelings, her own and other people’s. She doubts herself all the time, but at the same time, she is brave enough to write about corruption and crime without having a second thought about the criminals who can recognise themselves in her writing.  I am sure, this book could be an excellent subject for a dissertation on shame and vulnerability if Brene Brown got to it. But I am also sure that it’s a book that you couldn’t stay indifferent to. You either love it or hate it.

Jezebel

How We Eclipse Women’s Literary Brilliance With ‘Scandal’

The narrative that important, authoritative female novelists ultimately owe their brilliance to men refuses to die as we close out 2017—and it’s ensnared one of our newest literary stars. The plagiarism allegations against The Girlsauthor Emma Cline, leveled by her ex-boyfriend, have set off a bruising legal battle and exposed Cline’s personal life. But more than just sordid, they’re a public attempt to silence a young and intriguing literary voice.

The initial claim was that Cline stole part of the book from her ex using spyware. But the story of the lawsuit reads to a casual observer almost like a blackmail attempt, for which Cline has just countersued. According to reports in the New Yorker and the New York Times, the initial complaint—signed by lawyer and Weinstein defender David Boies—contained pages of information on Cline’s sexual habits, with the implicit threat that unless she settled for a large sum, they’d be released publicly.

“I never, in any scenario, could have imagined publishing a novel would have resulted in a bunch of lawyers combing through records of my porn habits,” Cline told the New Yorker. In the second, post-Weinstein version of the complaint, those pages were gone, but the damage to the writer is done. Cline told the Times that she has missed out on priceless time and energy she’d need to write a follow-up novel, calling it “a loss I don’t know how to fully comprehend.”

But as we’re made to pore over lurid details of naked pictures and Craigslist-arranged assignation, a more important and jarring question looms: how could anyone ever think any part of that book was written by a man?

A riff on the real-life story of the Manson girls, The Girls was so firmly rooted in an experience of female adolescence—specifically white, female, disaffected, angry, horny, suburban ’60s adolescence. It was a book about being a certain kind of girl. It was a story about the banality of young female anger and violence. Many readers remain willing to give men authority over these themes; Jonathan Franzen’s Purity follows another directionless young woman into a web of violence. Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides channels suburban female self-harm directly through the collective male gaze. Yet The Girls felt exciting because that gaze was so deliberately absent, its Manson figure so peripheral to the titular characters’ toxic interest in each other.

The assertion that Cline, however subtly, owes her brilliance and accolades to a male hand is recurring in literary circles whenever a woman pens powerfully—like when some critics thought Elena Ferrante was a pen name for a man, even though the Italian novelist’s Neapolitan works told a story that felt so subjective, so deeply and unquestionably female. These novels, too, were a portrait of a lifelong female friendship (or frenemy-ship), set against the backdrop of a community that experienced poverty and domestic and mob violence. In Lila and Elena’s desires for escape, fury at the world and obsession with each other, many of us who succumbed to Ferrante Fever saw an exhaustive exploration of a female psyche—not necessarily ours, but someone’s. That felt new and thrilling. And like The Girls, which commanded a huge advance and was the the big book of its season, Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels dominated online and in-person literary discussion for months, with avid woman fans taking the lead in the analysis.

So naturally, Literary Men were suspicious. For months, rumors swirled in the Italian and international press about the reclusive Ferrante’s true identity. Finally, she was doxxed by Claudio Gatti, a swaggering male journalist who claimed to have discovered her purported identity. Snooping through real estate and other holdings, he pinpointed her as Anita Raja, married to Italian novelist Domenico Starnone. He even went so far as to, again, float the idea that the books were a “collaboration” between the two writers.

He went forward with his quest despite Ferrante’s very clearly expressed wish to be left alone. “I have gained a space of my own, a space that is free, where I feel active and present,” she once said of her decision to remain anonymous. “To relinquish it would be very painful.” Artists and writers who are not white men continually have to fight back against a public obsession with their personal lives, a desire to link those lives with their work as a way of diminishing their talent. This is what Ferrante avoided by being anonymous, and what Gatti and others foisted onto her.

Both of these novelists achieved something rare in the literary world: books about female experiences that were critically lauded, widely read, and constantly-discussed events. They were staking out specific women’s emotional territory as universal and worthy.

And poof! Both just happen to have been undermined by men questioning their authority and even denying their (or any woman’s) authorship. Both female authors were each then further punished by an unwanted act of privacy invasion. Those twin intrusions—the outing of Ferrante’s identity and the exposure of Cline’s sex life— both attempted to permanently put asterisks on the discussion of these women’s writing. In both cases, it remains unclear whether the work will eventually surpass the “scandal” in people’s minds—many readers have vowed not to think about Ferrante’s unmasking or acknowledge it. But at least temporarily and at least for some readers, Cline is reduced to the ex-girlfriend of the guy suing her. Ferrante became the wife of another novelist.

All this recalls another agonizing literary moment from recent years: In 2014, novelist Jaqueline Woodson was called to the stage to receive her National Book Award for her masterful verse-novel about her own family, Brown Girl Dreaming. After her speech, her friend and presenter Daniel Handler made a crude racist joke. “In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from,” Woodson later wrote.

Clearly, the elevation of diverse stories to a position of centrality in literature still provokes backlash, even from friends in the form of a “joke.” The message sent to other writers whose subjects and identities have previously been marginalized is that even if you do succeed, someone will be waiting to humiliate or discredit you, or simply shrink your stature. And even though readers have rallied around all three these writers in the face of insults, the effect is still discouraging. Because many serious artists want, in Ferrante’s words, “To concentrate exclusively and with complete freedom on writing and its strategies.” A stupid joke, a cruel lawsuit, an unwanted journalistic investigation—all these acts do their part to yank that freedom away.

Bookwitty

Italian Authors in Search of Identity, Part II

By Valerie Waterhouse

Published on October 5, 2017

Recent authors have made Pirandello’s themes so central that the search for, or absence of, identity have become a defining characteristic of ‘Italian-ness’. Famously, Elena Ferrante has annulled her own authorial identity: ‘Ferrante’ is a cypher for an anonymous writer – possibly a translator, possibly married to novelist Domenico Starnone, possibly a stand-in for both halves of the couple – or perhaps we are all on the wrong track? The absence of a public presence frees Ferrante from ‘the rituals that writers are more or less obliged to perform in order to sustain their book,’ she explained to Vanity Fair.

In an article for The Guardian, Ferrante wrote about Jane Austen, who also published her novels anonymously. ‘Who wrote Sense and Sensibility? Who invented Marianne and Elinor and their mother and the many female characters who appear, disappear, reappear?’ she asked. She might well have been commenting on her own best-selling novels: The Neapolitan Quartet. Their focus is the six-decade-long friendship between Elena/Lenuccia/Lenù and Raffaella/Lina/Lila, whose changing names and the similarities between their nomenclatures (Lenù/Lina) underline the impossibility of pinning down identity across time and space. My Brilliant Friend, the first in the series, begins with Lina/Lila’s disappearance: ‘She wanted not only to disappear herself, now, at the age of sixty-six, but also to eliminate the entire life she had left behind. Everything, including her computer, photos of herself, birth certificates, telephone bills, receipts, had gone.’ Characters stretch their boundaries so far across the course of the novels, that they are almost impossible to define. The most extreme example is the women’s friend, Alfonso, who undergoes a male to female transition so complete that he almost transforms into Lina. And yet, like Italian identity, each personality displays seemingly immutable defining traits. Elena is hard-working and studious and efficient; Lina’s razor-sharp intelligence never fades.

The Cut

Elena Ferrante Is Writing Again!!!

By 

Finally, some good news: Elena Ferrante is writing again.

Last year, after Ferrante’s identity was allegedly outed by Italian journalist Claudio Gatti — despite her oft-stated desire to remain anonymous — many worried that the pseudonymous author of the Neapolitan novels would never write again. But much like Lila Cerullo taking up arms at Bruno Soccavo’s sausage factory (shoutout to my fellow Ferrante-heads!), your literary girl crush isn’t about to let some silly man crush her spirit.

According to an interview with her publishers in the Italian literary newsletter Il Libraio, translated in The GuardianFerrante is putting pen to paper once more. “I know she is writing, but at the moment I cannot say anything more,” revealed publisher Sandro Ferrari, who adds there are no plans for a novel to come out next year.

Ferrante is reportedly also working on a screenplay for the TV adaptation of the Neapolitan novels, which is slated to air on HBO in the United States. Hillary Clinton must be so pleased.

The Guardian

Elena Ferrante is writing again, publisher says

 in Rome

New work is understood to be a novel separate from TV screenplay writer is working on for adaptation of Neapolitan series

Elena Ferrante is back. And she’s busy.

It has been just over a year since the Italian novelist behind My Brilliant Friend and the rest of the highly acclaimed Neapolitan series was outed by an investigative journalist who claimed to have discovered her true identity.

Since then, fans of Elena Ferrante, who has always written under a pen name, had reason to worry she might not return. In interviews over the years, Ferrante suggested that her anonymity was a vital component of her work. Being unknown, she said, gave her the space and liberty to focus on her writing, free from the “anxiety of notoriety” or the temptation to censor herself.

The investigative journalist Claudio Gatti reported last October that Ferrante’s true name was Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator whose middle-class background differed from that fostered by Elena Ferrante, which more closely resembled the struggling background of her two protagonists. Gatti was criticised for a gross violation of the writer’s privacy and some believed he would be blamed if Ferrante disappeared from public life.

However, a recent interview with Ferrante’s publishers in Il Libraio, an Italian literary newsletter, included one line that could give fans relief: “I know she is writing, but at the moment I cannot say anything more,” said Sandro Ferri, who heads the publishing house Ediozioni E/O with his wife, Sandra Ozzola.

But Ferri said there were no plans for a new Ferrante novel to be published in 2018.

The publishers declined to offer any more details. But the new work is understood to be separate from the screenplay Ferrante is working on for a television series based on the Neapolitan novels, which will air on HBO and the Italian broadcaster RAI.

The New York Times Style Magazine

Is the Age of the Artistic Recluse Over?

(…. ) The desire to uncover our one true voice, the dread of hearing what it has to say: This seems to me the tension of modern life, the thing that has us searching for a cell signal on yoga retreat. Being in a place where nothing has an agenda for your attention, as Axelrod found, means looking and listening in an unguarded way. “Natural curiosities and affinities emerge,” as he puts it, “becoming the filters for experience.” How we breathe in the world, then, defaults to a function of an unbidden part of identity, rather than a function of what others want us to be — or, perhaps even more crucially, how we want others to think we are.

Elena Ferrante, the Italian author whose pseudonymity became part of her mystique, once wrote to me in an email interview, “If my book were publicly mine from the beginning, I would be careful not to damage my image, I would censor myself.” Writing was a “battle against lying. Only with the confidence of anonymity can I decide occasionally to publish. In the end, if I’m forced to choose, I prefer to lose the role of writer rather than spoil my passion for writing — that’s the way it’s always been.” When she was allegedly unmasked by an Italian investigative journalist, her fans were outraged at the violation. It was invasive, they argued, which it was, but it seemed to me that not only were they defending Ferrante from the indignity of having her financial and real-estate records unveiled, they were also defending their own right not to know, to be free to imagine that she was, in fact, Elena Greco, the narrator of her Neapolitan Novels, the woman they knew with the intimacy and deep interiority only possible in literature.

And so contemporary artists find ways to battle for truth on their own terms. I think of young women like Emma Cline, who push back against having their photos on the dust jackets of their books, or David Hammons, who declines to participate in the accepted machinations of the art world, or Bob Dylan, who took nearly two weeks to even publicly acknowledge that he won the Nobel Prize in literature last year. But maybe the best display of resistance against the role of artist-as-performer was the quietly myth-demolishing article by this year’s Nobel laureate in literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote for The Guardian about the four-week period of seclusion in 1987 he and his wife called the “crash,” a desperate attempt to “reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.” The result was “The Remains of the Day,” a monumental yesteryear portrait of renunciation, and a life passed by, tragically unlived. Now, of course, all is reversed: It’s renouncing the world that requires nerve and imagination, and the roar of silence that dares us to listen.

The Guardian

Elena Ferrante’s Naples – a photo essay

We follow in the (fictional) footsteps of the heroines of My Brilliant Friend and its sequels, into the alleyways, gritty apartment blocks and piazzas of this energetic and fascinating city

by Sophia Seymour. Photographs: Giuseppe Di Vaio

Lenù and Lila, the fictional protagonists of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, forge their friendship in a deprived area of Naples, just east of the cacophonous central station. The books follow the girls’ fraught relationship as they navigate the distinct social and economic divides of the city, both railing against and succumbing to the expectations of women as they struggle to be defined by something other than the violence and poverty of their post-war upbringing.

A ground-floor apartment in a working class area of Naples.
  • A ground-floor apartment in a working class area of Naples.

Ferrante maps out in vivid detail every corner of the unnamed “neighbourhood” where they grow up, yet when the characters move into the rest of the city she is meticulous in naming each street and square, allowing Naples to take centre stage as the stories develop. In this way, the success of the novels has seen an unprecedented number of readers from across the world make a pilgrimage to Naples, in search of the raw and gritty side of the city that has traditionally kept visitors away.

The area where the girls grow up is based on working class Rione Luzzatti, which has hardly changed since the 1950s and does seemingly little to defy the city’s much-maligned reputation as a crumbling rogue governed by intimidating forces. However, those intent on discovering the stomping ground of the brilliant heroines will need to abandon preconceptions, ignore warnings of lawless, unruly Neapolitans, and head deep into the underbelly, to the city’s scarcely explored areas. It is here that the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of the city reveal themselves, and the real magic of Naples is to be discovered.

Porta Capuana is one of Naples’ old city gates, built by the Aragonese dynasty in 1484.
  • Porta Capuana is one of Naples’ old city gates, built by the Aragonese dynasty and dating back to 1484.

To follow in the footsteps of characters in the four novels, head out of the historic centre on a Dante-esque trip into the Neapolitan underworld. Pass through the vast Aragonese city gates of Porta Capuana, now sitting alone in a square off Via Carbonara, and head into the pulsating heart of O’ Buvero street market.

Naples street markets are a place to experience the energy of the city
  • Naples street markets are a place to experience the energy of the city.

O’ Buvero is a human jumble of activity weaving through the decaying 15th-century palaces of Via Sant’Antonio Abate. It is here that the energy of the city’s street life can truly be experienced, resonating through the neighbourhood and into the cramped flats and echoing stairwells.

O’ Buvero market, Via Sant’Antonio Abate, whose the layout has not changed since the 15th century
O’Buvero market stall holder.
A fruit and vegetable stand in O’ Buvero Market.
This sign says, ‘mopeds and timewasters are forbidden to park here’ and hangs at the entrance to the church of Sant’Antonio Abate.

As you walk through the alleyways, it is impossible not to project the community of characters described in the book on to the market sellers. Stop to buy a bunch of tiny piennolo tomatoes from the equivalent of the Ada Cappuccio character who ran the fruit stall in Ferrante’s Naples, or watch as an Enzo Scanno equivalent loads crates of produce, like Jenga blocks, on to his cart to take back and sell in the neighbourhood.

View from behind the market, with the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in the background.
  • A view of the church of Sant’Antonio Abate from behind the market.

If you were wondering where to find intimidating Solara brother types, striking illicit deals, look out for the men manning blackmarket cigarette stalls, their cartons neatly arranged on tablecloths so that they can be removed in one quick motion at the sight of police.

An illegal cigarette stall.

Deeper into the market, lurid insults filter from above, hurled from window to window by women as they lace the streets with laundry, just like Melina and Lidia squabbling over Donato Sarratore in the first book, My Brilliant Friend. Deals are thrashed out in thick Neapolitan dialect, while Vespas arrive loaded with boxes of broccoli-like friarelli, grown on the slopes of Vesuvius. Through a half-open door you may spot an old boy painting the colourful price tags that decorate the market stalls. Nearby may be a woman leaning out of her street-level apartment, cigarette in hand, waiting for a lighter to be lowered by rope in a basket from a floor above.

Pasquale’s family has been making price tags for the markets across Naples for three generations.
A basket being lowered with a light within.
  • Old world charm: Pasquale’s family has been making price tags for the markets across Naples for three generations. Right; passing a light with a basket.

Exiting the market, up Via Benedetto Cairoli to Corso Garibaldi, you pass a traditional acquafrescaio kiosk, selling sulphuric Telese from Vesuvius, known for its healing and aphrodisiac properties. Perhaps Elena Greco was under the influence of this potent volcanic liquid when she first laid her lustful eyes on the womaniser Nino Sarratore at the nearby high school.

The infamous ‘stradone’, south-west of the Rione Luzzatti neighbourhood.
  • The infamous ‘stradone’, south-west of the Rione Luzzatti neighbourhood.

Take a taxi down the wide Via Taddeo da Sessa – the stradone of the books – with the financial district on the left, and leave behind the market and enter a seemingly less hospitable corner of the city, Rione Luzzatti. Silent women stare out of the barred windows of apartments in the four-storey Fascist-era housing blocks. The flats face on to shared courtyards, lined with grates into basements like the one where Lila threw Lenù’s doll, Tina. Occasionally, the stillness is punctured by schoolchildren tumbling out of the concrete elementary school on Via Marino Freccia for lunch, or the fishmonger whistling down the vacant avenues in his three-wheeled Piaggio.

Acqua Telese bought from the Acquafrescaio Kiosk on the corner of the market
  • Telese mineral water on sale at the acquafrescaio kiosk on the corner of the market.
Children run home after school: the elementary school Lenù and Lila would have attended is on the left and the parish church is behind them.
  • Children run home after school. The elementary school Lenù and Lila would have attended is on the left and the parish church is behind them.

It’s worth spending some time exploring, however, as there are a number of reputable establishments around the central square. The basement Pasticciello bakery (Via Vesuvio 3C) has been attracting outsiders to the neighbourhood long before Ferrante’s books came out. It is famous for pagnutiello, a typical Neapolitan street snack made from eggs, ham and cheese, baked in crunchy bread and sold for €1. Signor Spagnuolo – Gigliola’s father – would have baked these as a warm lunch for workmen at the nearby central station.

Il Pasticciello Bakery, Rione Luzzatti.
  • Il Pasticciello bakery, Rione Luzzatti. Below: Lucia and her assistant cracking eggs in the kitchen.
Lucia and her assistant cracking eggs in the kitchen of Il Pasticciello

Down an espresso at Bar Pariso (Via Beato Leonardo Murialdo, on the corner of Piazza Francesco Coppola ), alongside men who, according to Ferrante, spend their time “between gambling losses and troublesome drunkness”. Try a vino sfuso – local aglianico wine dispensed straight from the barrel in a plastic cup – from Marco’s slither of a shop next to the tobacconists on Via Buonocore. Wander through the public gardens where Lila would have taught Elena her Latin verbs and past the Sacra Famiglia parish church, originally built in central Naples in the 15th century before being transported to the rione brick by brick, when the area needed a place of worship.

Il Bar Pariso on the corner of the neighbourhood square.
  • Il Bar Pariso on the corner of the neighbourhood square.

If the bakery’s pagnutiello has your mouth watering, follow the stradone out of the neighbourhood and through the dark, infamous “tunnel with its three entrances” on Via Gianturco where Lila and Lenù skip school and first attempt to leave the neighbourhood to go and see the sea.

The infamous tunnel on Via Gianturco, where Lila and Elena first attempt to leave the neighbourhood.
  • The infamous tunnel on Via Gianturco, where Lila and Elena first attempt to leave the neighbourhood.

Turn right into the slighly more upmarket Case Nuove district for lunch at Pizzeria Carmnella. The pizzaiolo, Vincenzo Esposito, has invented a pizza to celebrate Elena Ferrante, mirroring the dishes served at a traditional Neapolitan Sunday lunch: ragú simmered for 24 hours, ricotta, fiordilatte mozzarella from Agerola on the Amalfi peninsula, grated parmesan and fresh basil.

Pizzeria Carmnella
  • Pizzeria Carmnella: pizza margherita straight from the woodburning oven.
Pizza margherita straight from the woodburning oven on the left in Pizzeria Carmnella.
‘Elena Ferrante’ Pizza on the menu at Pizzeria Carmnella

Not all of Ferrante’s bildungsroman is based in poor neighbourhoods. The life of Elena Greco reaches into the privileged pockets of Via Tasso and the Chiaia district too (as well as to Florence and Milan). Her books expose the Manichean elements of the city, the contrast of lightness and darkness, poverty and wealth, opportunity and hopelessness. So when, after lunch, you hurl across the city in a taxi to where the Solaras sold Lila’s shoes in an upmarket boutique in Piazza Dei Martiri, it feels like crossing a border, moving through tangible social and economic divides.

Ferrante’s characters are astonished by the stark contrast in daily life for richer folk, the orderly manner of things compared with the menacing chaos of the impoverished neighbourhoods. Lenù’s impressions of the Chiaia residents is that they “seemed to have breathed another air, to have eaten other food, to have dressed on some other planet, to have learned to walk on wisps of air”. The change in atmosphere is tangible under the central marble column surrounded by sculpted lions, in the square lined with elegant shops.

Local Neapolitan men.

Follow the line of boutiques up to the top of Via Chiaia and the lavish Gambrinus coffee house on the corner of Piazza Trento e Trieste, where (unlike Ferrante) writers such as Hemingway and Neruda could afford to watch the world go by. As you pass by the familiar chain stores and well-heeled gentry, beware: a longing may set in for the raw and pulsating Naples to the east.

Gambrinus Coffeehouse has been in Piazza Trieste e Trento since 1860, and has always been a meeting point for intellectuals and musicians performing in the San Carlo Opera House opposite. Gigliola drags Elena Greco here for ‘all sorts of things, both salty and sweet’ when they bump into each other on Via Toledo, in the final book.
  • Gambrinus Coffeehouse has been in Piazza Trieste e Trento since 1860, and has always been a meeting point for intellectuals, and for musicians performing in the San Carlo Opera House opposite.

As the writing in the Neapolitan novels attests, Naples is a city of vivid contradictions that summon conflicting emotions of love, loathing, shock and wonder. Searching for Lila Cerullo, the missing protagonist, in the less wealthy areas of the city means encountering Neapolitans who will go out of their way to disprove any negative reputation with the sort of warm, sociable and humble spirit associated with having always felt like the underdog. On the flip side, one can’t but be suspicious of invisible dark forces at play, nepotism and raging inequality. Wandering through the market and into the streets where Lenù and Lila’s friendship blossomed, and crisscrossing the city’s starkly divided neighbourhoods, is like reading the book itself: charged, consuming, and liable to start a lifelong love affair.

Sophia Seymour is a Naples based documentary maker, writer and the founder of Looking for Lila. She curates tours, shoots and events using the Ferrante novels as a frame to explore the city

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The Stanford Daily

The relatable brilliance of ‘My Brilliant Friend’

Anna-Sofia Lesiv, Columnist

When Lena imagines herself in her mind, her actual appearance is not what she pictures. Lena is chubby. Glasses cover her eyes, acne covers her skin. She’s coming of age in a poor and violent suburb of Naples, being hurled towards adulthood, while grasping – as if for a branch in a hurricane – for childhood and a world where time stays still. Adulthood is frightening. It disables like her mother’s limp. It suffocates with the claustrophobia of domesticity and aches with the disappointment of abandoned dreams. Growing up seems, for Lena, what it is for most girls, a winding on of constraints and obligations, an application of social pressure and a submission to its conformity.

Adolescence is the jarring in-between. It’s the time before the substance of our identities hardens into the adults we fear becoming. A present yet fleeting moment of tumult, it offers a final window of hope to shape our lives, our minds, before they ossify into their mature and unchangeable forms.

“My Brilliant Friend” is a journey through the secret thoughts, memories and confessions swirling in Lena’s mind. Paced by the ever-increasing speed of change, the novel exudes uncertainty. At nearly every point in the narrative, Lena is struggling to define her self-worth – and herself. Though she is sought after by boys and praised by teachers, she questions her beauty, her intelligence and her merits. Though she is deeply introspective and thoughtful, she fears being wrong or seeming stupid. Lena’s challenge is Sisyphean, to overcome within herself that which always tells her she is behind. Author Elena Ferrante pours out these insecurities with prose you could drink, but digesting the plight of the young protagonist would be exhausting if it weren’t so acutely familiar.

As a freshman last year, I remember sitting in class with the previous night’s reading whirling in my mind. I had argued over the ideas with my friends last night, ruminated over their meaning. Yet when prompted for questions or comments, my hand stayed resolutely lowered, my mouth steadfastly closed. My piece, which teetered at the tip of my tongue, was knocked off balance by the frenzy of thoughts chasing each other in circles, each one critical of the last. While a hurricane ravaged through my mind, the professor calmly registered the silence and moved on.

Later on, I approached a friend of mine to ask about this phenomenon that followed me from class to class. It felt as if something inside of me were ordering me to stay silent, lest I be wrong, lest my question contain the slightest redundancy. No matter how much I dedicate myself to the material, self-doubt always seemed to creep in. To my surprise, my friend told me that she was experiencing the exact same thing. We resolved that introspecting, overanalyzing, somehow always made us weaker. It set one part of ourselves against another, and left us in a haze, not knowing which “self” to trust.

Like young Lena, we lacked – and perhaps feared – the conviction required to assert our opinions, and thus ourselves. Fearing that we become, inadvertently, what we did not wish to be. Fearing that a false statement might crystallize into a false impression. In general, we just feared.

The world offers a lot for a girl to fear. The threat of violence, abuse, loss of agency or denial of self-fulfillment, all are ominous concerns thumping in the background of “My Brilliant Friend,” and while it’s easy to learn to fear, girls, in particular are much more hard pressed to find models of overcoming it without submitting to artificially mimicking the trope of male supremacy.

On this point, Ferrante offers a brilliant case study. Lila, Lena’s self-assured and powerful friend, doesn’t fear wielding a knife on those who cross her. She dominates with her intellect, and eviscerates all doubt directed at her through forceful outbursts of aggression and merciless cruelty. However, Lila’s extreme displays of courage seem to hint that beneath them lay profound unrest. Midway into her adolescence, she begins experiencing a feeling she calls “dissolving boundaries,” when all around her, people, objects lose their shape and seem but a mass of particles, spilling out of their original forms. The storm of adolescence ravages, leaving nothing behind as it was. Lila’s ambition devolves into doubt, and her courage eventually gives in to fear. She commits herself to provincial life and dismisses the prospect of moving away from her impoverished, lethargic town.

Suppressing self-doubt does not get rid of it, and the contrast between the two friends finally exposes itself in the way the girls respond to self-critique. Whereas Lena grew up and adapted under the constant pressure of crushing self-doubt, for Lila, the shock of finally admitting to such uncertainty, was irreparably destructive.

After reading the first novel in Ferrante’s series, I met with my friend from freshman year once again. She had been reading an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy published a few days prior that seemed to translate exactly what we felt into a polished jargon, as if our recurring dispositions were legitimate academic methodology. The entry is titled “Epistemic Self-Doubt,” and dubs the state of the split, doubting self, as one of “epistemic akrasia.”

The entry sheds light on what it means to be a constantly self-critiquing and doubting being. It notes that while splitting oneself into two factions is not the most straightforward means of existence, it’s almost not a state of perpetual moral tempest, and by all means, is extremely possible to simply live with. Lena’s not a role model – no one in Ferrante’s books is. She never solves the problem of self-doubt, but she does move forward despite it. Her ability to keep going despite her flaws is her most commendable trait, one that fellow epistemic akrasiacs are wont to take note of.

 

Contact Anna-Sofia Lesiv at alesiv ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Les Nuages

ON LITERATURE….ELENA FERRANTE “MY BRILLIAND FRIEND”

I have read many books throughout the years, from the heavy classics to the lighter page-turners, and I know exactly what I like to read. For me a good book should be both interesting, well written, light and heavy at the same time. Literature should be something enriching for both the soul, the heart and the brain. I love a well-written page-turner. The Italian writer Elena Ferrante writes those books.

I have read many foreign writers, both for some reason not a lot of Italian writers, but since reading Elena Ferrante I have become increasingly interested in the country and it’s culture. Elena Ferrante is an interesting figure, she (if she is a she) has decided to stay anonymous, she has said that her person and her books should be and stay to separate things and that you don’t need to know a writer for you to enjoy a book. Unfortunately, her wish to stay unknown is also the press wish to unravel that secret. Ferrante has since stated that she would not produce any more books if “they” (the publishing firm) decide to reveal her identity.

But to get back to her books, the most famous ones are the Neapolitan Novels. The four book series that tells the becoming of age story of two girls Elena and Lila growing up in Naples, from the 50’s to today. It’s a story of girls becoming women, but also about a city that is, in my sense, the principal character of the book. Naples is violent, hard, poor but also extremely fascinating. The books are extremely well written, there is everything from love to politics. After reading the books, you feel like you have lived their lives, you travel through Italy’s story and you grow up with them. These books are truly the most realistic and gripping books, I have read in a long time. And have you already read the four books, I can also recommend Ferrante’s other books. The themes of the female struggle, Naples, family are recurrent.