Since you've heard from me last, I've been immersed in the amazing four book series by pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante, beginning with My Brilliant Friend. I took breaks to read The Golem and the Jinni for my book club (more on this gem to come) and to watch Season 4 of "House of Cards" on Netflix and go to Australia for two weeks and type and format five anthologies of student poetry for my job. But through it all, I binge read these beautiful Neapolitan Novels.
The series is called the Neapolitan Novels because the books are about Naples, Italy as much as they are about the friendship between two women, Lila and Lenu. Lila and Lenu meet as children and grow up together in a tight knit, impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Lenu narrates the books and honestly evaluates their friendship over the years. The people of the neighborhood play an important supporting role as does the backdrop of the politics of Italy during the years beginning with the 1960s. These two intelligent girls have a rough upbringing with violence and restrictions at every turn. The girls take different paths, but their journeys continue to converge with intensity and heartbreak.
These books just blew me away. The novels were written in Italian and translated by the talented Ann Goldstein, a New Yorker editor and celebrity translator, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The phrasing and descriptions and intensity of the novels are all engrossing.
What makes these books even more interesting is the mystery of the identity of Elena Ferrante. The last of the four books, The Story of the Lost Child, has reached the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. This is the first time a Booker prize winner might be anonymous. All that is known about the writer is that she was born in Naples. She has been quoted from a letter to her editors as saying, "Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors." James Wood in a New Yorker article in 2013 said that not only did the author grow up in Naples, but she is a mother, has a classics degree, and is now unmarried. So as I read the intensely personal novels, I couldn't help but think that the main character Lenu, short for Elena, who is a writer and narrates the novels, is the author and that these fictional books are actually partially autobiographical. I love that Elena Ferrante has no need for the limelight and I respect her privacy, but I hope that the mystery of the author will be solved one day. But for now, read this series as soon as you can!