The Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” Yet, most novels that women are raised on, as well as TV and movies and Facebook status updates, do not portray the reality of this situation and, in fact, fill young-lady heads with false ideas about how life is going to be (romantic, full of meet-cutes and happy endings, well-styled, well-lit).
The mysterious Elena Ferrante has other ideas. Her insanely readable quartet—OK, I’m actually only on the third book, but I read the first two in two days and now, on day three, I am pretty pissed that I have to be at work instead of on my couch binge-reading—tells the story of two friends growing up and becoming adults in the brutal poverty of 1950s and ’60s Naples. Italy, in these novels, isn’t dreamy Venetian gondolas, pasta, wine and stone-paved streets but instead an unescapeable prison for almost all women, where they are considered property, beaten regularly and assaulted in pretty much every way you could imagine.
Sure, our culture is a little bit more subtle than that of midcentury Italy. But still, it isn’t too difficult to see the struggles of our mothers in the lives of the main characters, Elena and Lila. The struggle to be treated as human, to be allowed to attend school and college, to have control over their bodies, not to be beaten to death. Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that those battles aren’t exactly resolved (see: Stylish Bulletproof Vest below). So buy your lady these books—the younger, the better. Maybe it won’t change the world, but at least they might reorder her expectations and save her some future disappointment.