Jan 1, 2019 – Dorothea Shefer-Vanson
This novel, the first of a quartet, has become an international bestseller and has been widely praised in literary circles. So I was overjoyed when I was able to pick up a copy someone had discarded at one of the airports I visited recently. I found it a wee bit difficult to get into at first, but once I had overcome that initial barrier I found myself entranced by the account of the friendship between two girls, Elena (Lenu) and Lila, in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of post-war Naples. The book starts with their childhood, when they both still played with dolls, continues with their teenage years and adolescent agonies, and ends with the wedding of one of them, though still a teenager.
The author manages to describe the feelings and experiences of those childhood years, with the close but fluctuating relationship between the two girls, as well as between them and the people around them, in a vivid and engaging way. The writing style does not always read smoothly, and at times there are too many jerky stops and starts in the narrative flow for my taste, but the intensity of the emotions and events described help the reader to overcome any reluctance he or she might have to continue reading.
The first few pages of the book provide an index of the various families who comprise the main characters of the neighbourhood and the book, and I found this very helpful, as the Italian names and surnames are sometimes difficult to differentiate and thus to imagine the characters. After all, when half the boys are called Gino, Nino, and Rino, that does not help the reader to distinguish between them.