New York Times Book Review

Elena Greco, known to all as the porter’s daughter in her poor 1950s Naples neighborhood, always liked school: “Right away, from the first day,” it seemed like “a much nicer place than home.”  She’s the teacher’s pet, often asked to sit beside the maestra as a reward for her diligence.  So it comes as a distressing surprise when Lila Cerullo, the shoemaker’s daughter, is invited to take the seat of honor instead.  After this initial shock, Elena trains herself to accept Lila’s superiority.  The charismatic and mysterious Lila is eminently crush-worthy, but it doesn’t take much hermeneutic detective work to see that Ferrante thinks her namesake protagonist is brilliant in her own right.  She’s also more fortunate: Elena’s parents allow her to continue her education through high school, whereas Lila’s expect her to drop out and start working.  By the end of this astute novel, which has been translated into lucid English by Ann Goldstein, these environmental differences have just begun to manifest themselves, setting up the next installment of a planned trilogy.

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