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May 25, 2016

Elena Who And What The Heck Is A Neapolitan Novel?

by Kathleen Barker

When I first stumbled across a mention of Italian author Elena Ferrante, I wondered what she had written to be crowned one of Italy's most renowned novelists.

I heartily agreed with an article in "The Economist", which called her "the best contemporary novelist you've never heard of."

Her series of Neapolitan Novels begins with My Brilliant Friend, the first in the multi-volume set.  I was intrigued as I have a deep love for Italy and its people.  And, at the risk of sounding shallow, I liked the cover art.

For some reason, I have been ensnared by multi-volume novels of late (such as Outlander and Poldark) so I decided to flip a coin.  After all, unlike the other two series, this one only has four books.
Set in the 1950's  near Naples, Italy, Ferrante tells the story of two young girls, Lila and Elena. Translated from the original Italian, it was not an easy book to read.  Even the best of translators cannot precisely duplicate the lilt and flow of the author's language.  My grammatical background did battle with the occasional run-on or incomplete sentence.  I had to force myself to chalk it up to artistic license. 

The story is deeply personal, often violent, and I felt that Ferrante's goal was to reach through the page and slap me, reminding me that this was her story to tell, not necessarily one that I would love to hear.  As I moved through the first hundred pages, I was irritated by the ever-shifting friendship of these girls as they matured.  Yet I was drawn back, wanting to know how they could possibly remain friends   The author captures the insecurities of girlhood in a male-dominated culture surrounded by grinding poverty with the honesty of first-hand experience. 

Though I fought valiantly to dislike this book, the characters repeatedly sucked me back in with their raw, honest descriptiveness.  I knew I could walk down any poor street in Naples and run into each and every one of them.  Damn it, now I'm going to have to buy book two, The  Story of a New Name.

Buy My Brilliant Friend at Amazon

Kathleen Barker, features writer. Kathleen was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on "The Charm City Chronicles". All four volumes, "Ednor Scardens", "The Body War", "The Hurting Year", and "On Gabriel's Wings" are available in Amazon's Kindle store.

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