The Man Booker Prize

The Story of the Lost Child Interview

Elena Ferrante tells us about her belief that ‘books, once they are written, have no need of their authors’, and translator Ann Goldstein reveals what she would say to someone pursuing the identity of Elena Ferrante.

This is the sixth in our series of Man Booker International Prize 2016 longlisted author and translator interviews.


Elena Ferrante, author of The Story of the Lost Child

What has it been like to be longlisted?

Very pleasing. I feel a great relief every time my books are warmly welcomed into another language. I am grateful to Ann Goldstein for the care she takes with them.


Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel The Story of the Lost Child?

It’s the final chapter of a story that accompanies its characters from childhood to old age. While Lena, despite a thousand disappointments and compromises, continues to the end to view her own life as blessed with luck, Lila experiences an absolute pain that removes meaning from her life.


Is there an author from Italy who you think should be translated into English?

I can think of a long list of talented authors – contemporary Italian literature is very interesting – and I can’t decide, also because I don’t know if the texts I have found most interesting have already been translated or not. So I will limit myself to mentioning the last two books I have read: Valeria Parrella’sTroppa importanza all’amore, and Marina Bellezza by Silvia Avallone.


Tell us more about your belief that ‘books, once they are written, have no need of their authors’…

A book always contains and safeguards its author.  When it’s finished, it’s as if the very ability to write is engulfed.  It’s not easy to bring it back to the light, it’s always a gamble. Those who write then, once they have stopped writing, become, like Proust’s Bergotte, unimportant, disappointing even.  For me publishing means deciding to send books into the public arena and counting on the self-sufficiency of the writing.  It’s useless, perhaps out of place, to look for readers: if the books deserve them, they will surely find them.

Ann Goldstein, translator of The Story of the Lost Child

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It was a complete surprise, and an honour, and exciting to me, but the Man Booker International doesn’t seem to be very well known in the U.S., so there hasn’t been much publicity around it.


What did you like most about translating The Story of the Lost Child?   

I liked working on the ending—though not at all because it was the end. This is the fourth book of a tetralogy, and I was distressed by the idea that the story had to end; I couldn’t imagine how it would end. But what Ferrante did is beautiful, satisfying, and true to the narrative, and working on it, trying to understand and convey the nuances of its complications, was perhaps what I liked most about translating the book.


What would you say to someone pursuing the identity of Elena Ferrante?

Don’t. It’s not important: as Ferrante says, the books speak for themselves.