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My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One Paperback – September 25, 2012
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Praise for Elena Ferrante and The Neapolitan Novels
The United States
“Ferrante’s novels are intensely, violently personal, and because of this they seem to dangle bristling key chains of confession before the unsuspecting reader.” —James Wood, The New Yorker
“One of the more nuanced portraits of feminine friendship in recent memory.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Amazing! My Brilliant Friend took my breath away. If I were president of the world I would make everyone read this book. It is so honest and right and opens up heart to so much. Reading Ferrante reminded me of that child-like excitement when you can’t look up from the page, when your eyes seem to be popping from your head, when you think: I didn’t know books could do this!” —Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge
“I like the Italian writer, Elena Ferrante, a lot. I've been reading all her work and all about her.” — John Waters, actor and director
“Elena Ferrante may be the best contemporary novelist you’ve never heard of”— The Economist
“Ferrante’s freshness has nothing to do with fashion…it is imbued with the most haunting music of all, the echoes of literary history.” —The New York Times Book Review
“I am such a fan of Ferrante’s work, and have been for quite a while.” —Jennifer Gilmore, author of The Mothers
“The women’s fraught relationship and shifting fortunes are the life forces of the poignant book” — Publisher’s Weekly
“When I read [the Neapolitan novels] I find that I never want to stop. I feel vexed by the obstacles—my job, or acquaintances on the subway—that threaten to keep me apart from the books. I mourn separations (a year until the next one—how?). I am propelled by a ravenous will to keep going.”—Molly Fischer, The New Yorker
“[Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels] don’t merely offer a teeming vision of working-class Naples, with its cobblers and professors, communists and mobbed-up businessmen, womanizing poets and downtrodden wives; they present one of modern fiction’s richest portraits of a friendship.” —John Powers, Fresh Air, NPR
“Elena Ferrante is one of the great novelists of our time. Her voice is passionate, her view sweeping and her gaze basilisk . . . In these bold, gorgeous, relentless novels, Ferrante traces the deep connections between the political and the domestic. This is a new version of the way we live now — one we need, one told brilliantly, by a woman.”—Roxana Robinson, The New York Times Book Review
“An intoxicatingly furious portrait of enmeshed friends Lila and Elena, Bright and passionate girls from a raucous neighborhood in world-class Naples. Ferrante writes with such aggression and unnerving psychological insight about the messy complexity of female friendship that the real world can drop away when you’re reading her.”—Entertainment Weekly
"It's just hypnotic. I could not stop reading it or thinking about it."—Hillary Clinton
“Ferrante seasons the prose with provocative perceptions not unlike the way Proust did.” —Shelf Awareness
“It would be difficult to find a deeper portrait of women’s friendship than the one in Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which unfold from the fifties to the twenty-first century to tell a single story with the possessive force of an origin myth.”—Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Ferrante’s writing is so unencumbered, so natural, and yet so lovely, brazen, and flush. The constancy of detail and the pacing that zips and skips then slows to a real-time crawl have an almost psychic effect, bringing you deeply into synchronicity with the discomforts and urgency of the characters’ emotions. Ferrante is unlike other writers—not because she’s innovative, but rather because she’s unselfconscious and brutally, diligently honest.”—Minna Proctor, Bookforum
“Ferrante can do a woman’s interior dialogue like no one else, with a ferocity that is shockingly honest, unnervingly blunt.”—Booklist
“The truest evocation of a complex and lifelong friendship between women I’ve ever read.” —Emily Gould, author of Friendship
“Elena Ferrante is the author of several remarkable, lucid, austerely honest novels . . . My Brilliant Friend is a large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman.”—James Wood, The New Yorker
“Compelling, visceral and immediate . . . a riveting examination of power . . . The Neapolitan novels are a tour de force.”—Jennifer Gilmore, The Los Angeles Times
“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay surpasses the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ferrante’s voice feels necessary. She is the Italian Alice Munro.”—Mona Simpson,author of Casebook and Anywhere But Here
“Elena Ferrante will blow you away.”—Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones
“The Days of Abandonment is a powerful, heartrending novel.”—Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Lowland
“The Neapolitan novel cycle is an unconditional masterpiece . . . I read all the books in a state of immersion; I was totally enthralled. There was nothing else I wanted to do except follow the lives of Lila and Lenù to the end.”—Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Lowland
“Reading Ferrante reminded me of that child-like excitement when you can’t look up from the page, when your eyes seem to be popping from your head, when you think: I didn’t know books could do this!”—Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Burgess Boys
“Elena Ferrante: the best angry woman writer ever!”—John Waters, director
“The feverish speculation about the identity of Elena Ferrante betrays an understandable failure of imagination: it seems impossible that right now somewhere someone sits in a room and draws up these books. Palatial and heartbreaking beyond measure, the Neapolitan novels seem less written than they do revealed. One simply surrenders. When the final volume appears—may that day never come!—they’re bound to be acknowledged as one of the most powerful works of art, in any medium, of our age.”—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction
“Ferrante tackles girlhood and friendship with amazing force.”—Gwyneth Paltrow, actor
“Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name. Book two in her Naples trilogy. Two words: Read it.”—Ann Hood, writer (from Twitter)
“Ferrante continues to imbue this growing saga with great magic.”—Booklist(starred review)
“One of Italy’s best contemporary novelists.”?—The Seattle Times
“Ferrante’s emotional and carnal candor are so potent.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Elena Ferrante’s gutsy and compulsively readable new novel, the first of a quartet, is a terrific entry point for Americans unfamiliar with the famously reclusive writer, whose go-for-broke tales of women’s shadow selves—those ambivalent mothers and seething divorcées too complex or unseemly for polite society (and most literary fiction, for that matter)—shimmer with Balzacian human detail and subtle psychological suspense . . . The Neapolitan novels offer one of the more nuanced portraits of feminine friendship in recent memory—from the make-up and break-up quarrels of young girls to the way in which we carefully define ourselves against each other as teens—Ferrante wisely balances her memoir-like emotional authenticity with a wry sociological understanding of a society on the verge of dramatic change.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“My Brilliant Friend is a sweeping family-centered epic that encompasses issues of loyalty, love, and a transforming Europe. This gorgeous novel should bring a host of new readers to one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors.”—The Barnes and Noble Review
“Ferrante draws an indelible picture of the city’s mean streets and the poverty, violence and sameness of lives lived in the same place forever . . . She is a fierce writer.”—Shelf Awareness
“Ferrante transforms the love, separation and reunion of two poor urban girls into the general tragedy of their city.”––The New York Times
“Beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein . . . Ferrante writes with a ferocious, intimate urgency that is a celebration of anger. Ferrante is terribly good with anger, a very specific sort of wrath harbored by women, who are so often not allowed to give voice to it. We are angry, a lot of the time, at the position we’re in—whether it’s as wife, daughter, mother, friend—and I can think of no other woman writing who is so swift and gorgeous in this rage, so bracingly fearless in mining fury.”—Susanna Sonnenberg, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Everyone should read anything with Ferrante’s name on it.”—The Boston Globe
“The through-line in all of Ferrante’s investigations, for me, is nothing less than one long, mind-and-heart-shredding howl for the history of women (not only Neapolitan women), and its implicit j’accuse . . . Ferrante’s effect, critics agree, is inarguable. ‘Intensely, violently personal’ and ‘brutal directness, familial torment’ is how James Wood ventures to categorize her—descriptions that seem mild after you’ve encountered the work.” —Joan Frank, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Lila, mercurial, unsparing, and, at the end of this first episode in a planned trilogy from Ferrante, seemingly capable of starting a full-scale neighborhood war, is a memorable character.”—Publishers Weekly
“An engrossing, wildly original contemporary epic about the demonic power of human (and particularly female) creativity checked by the forces of history and society.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Ferrante’s own writing has no limits, is willing to take every thought forward to its most radical conclusion and backwards to its most radical birthing.”—The New Yorker
The United Kingdom
“The Story of a New Name, like its predecessor, is fiction of the very highest order.”—Independent on Sunday
“My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein, is stunning: an intense, forensic exploration of the friendship between Lila and the story’s narrator, Elena. Ferrante’s evocation of the working-class district of Naples where Elena and Lila first meet as two wiry eight-year-olds is cinematic in the density of its detail.”—The Times Literary Supplement
“This is a story about friendship as a mass of roiling currents—love, envy, pity, spite, dependency and Schadenfreude coiling around one another, tricky to untangle.”—Intelligent Life
“Elena Ferrante may be the best contemporary novelist you have never heard of. The Italian author has written six lavishly praised novels. But she writes under a pseudonym and will not offer herself for public consumption. Her characters likewise defy convention . . . Her prose is crystal, and her storytelling both visceral and compelling.”—The Economist
Ferrante is an expert above all at the rhythm of plotting: certain feuds and oppositions are kept simmering and in abeyance for years, so that a particular confrontation – a particular scene – can be many hundreds of pages in coming, but when it arrives seems at once shocking and inevitable.”—The Independent
“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay evokes the vital flux of a heartbeat, of blood flowing through our veins.”––La Repubblica
“We don’t know who she is, but it doesn’t matter. Ferrante’s books are enthralling self-contained monoliths that do not seek friendship but demand silent, fervid admiration from her passionate readers . . . The thing most real in these novels is the intense, almost osmotic relationship that unites Elena and Lila, the two girls from a neighborhood in Naples who are the peerless protagonists of the Neapolitan novels.”—Famiglia Cristiana
“Today it is near impossible to find writers capable of bringing smells, tastes, feelings, and contradictory passions to their pages. Elena Ferrante, alone, seems able to do it. There is no writer better suited to composing the great Italian novel of her generation, her country, and her time than she.”—Il Manifesto
“Elena Ferrante is a very great novelist . . . In a world often held prisoner to minimalism, her writing is extremely powerful, earthy, and audacious.”—Francesca Marciano, author of The Other Language
“Regardless of who is behind the name Elena Ferrante, the mysterious pseudonym used by the author of the Neapolitan novels, two things are certain: she is a woman and she knows how to describe Naples like nobody else. She does so with a style that recalls an enchanted spider web with its expressive power and the wizardry with which it creates an entire world.” —Huffington Post (Italy)
“A marvel that is without limits and beyond genre.”—Il Salvagente
“Elena Ferrante is proving that literature can cure our present ills; it can cure the spirit by operating as an antidote to the nervous attempts we make to see ourselves reflected in the present-day of a country that is increasingly repellent.”—Il Mattino
“My Brilliant Friend flows from the soul like an eruption from Mount Vesuvio.”—La Repubblica
“No one has a voice quite like Ferrante’s. Her gritty, ruthlessly frank novels roar off the page with a barbed fury, like an attack that is also a defense . . . Ferrante’s fictions are fierce, unsentimental glimpses at the way a woman is constantly under threat, her identity submerged in marriage, eclipsed by motherhood, mythologised by desire. Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.”—John Freeman, The Australian
“One of the most astounding—and mysterious—contemporary Italian novelists available in translation, Elena Ferrante unfolds the tumultuous inner lives of women in her thrillingly menacing stories of lost love, negligent mothers and unfulfilled desires.”—The Age
“Ferrante bewitches with her tiny, intricately drawn world . . . My Brilliant Friend journeys fearlessly into some of that murkier psychological territory where questions of individual identity are inextricable from circumstance and the ever-changing identities of others.” —The Melbourne Review
“The Neapolitan novels move far from contrivance, logic or respectability to ask uncomfortable questions about how we live, how we love, how we singe an existence in a deeply flawed world that expects pretty acquiescence from its women. In all their beauty, their ugliness, their devotion and deceit, these girls enchant and repulse, like life, like our very selves.” —The Sydney Morning Herald
“The best thing I’ve read this year, far and away, would be Elena Ferrante…I just think she puts most other writing at the moment in the shade. She’s marvelous. I like her so much I’m now doing something I only do when I really love the writer: I’m only allowing myself two pages a day.” —Richard Flanagan, author of Book prize finalist, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
“Elena Ferrante’s female characters are genuine works of art . . . It is clear that her novel is the child of Italian neorealism and an abiding fascination with scene.”—El Pais
About the Author
Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), The Lost Daughter (Europa, 2008) and the Neapolitan Quartet (Europa 2012-2015). She is also the author of a children’s picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night.
Ann Goldstein is an editor at The New Yorker. Her translations for Europa Editions include novels by Amara Lakhous, Alessandro Piperno, and Elena Ferrante's bestselling My Brilliant Friend. She lives in New York.
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Top Customer Reviews
This first of a planned trilogy brings to life an old-world culture and fills readers with a passion for history and great storytelling. Elena artfully recalls her childhood, describing her earliest school days at a time when ordinary townsmen called for blunt action and despair. The neighborhood is consumed with a silent, inarticulate rage, shown toward rival families, by parents toward their offspring, and by neighborhood children toward one another. It was a common event of the age to witness a child being beaten by a family member or neighborhood kid, so no one interfered or paid much attention. Life was especially hard for young women and the poorer folks of small communities (which at that time seemed to be just about everyone).
The emphases for these families were dwindling resources, the simple ability to put food on the plate and pay the bills, and the need to provide cheap (child) labor. Women were expected to remain mute and meek always, and to further their families' needs at the expense of their pride and feelings. Family feuds happened routinely; everyone knew about them. But Lila and Elena learned as children --- largely through the power and support of friendship, and due to the positive influence of an exceptionally shrewd and motivating female teacher --- to stand up for themselves, and against all odds, face their fears and find creative solutions to problems, starting with the most immediate one of what to do about their futures.
By embracing pure intellectualism, these girls find a way to cope with their existence and to gather a glimmer of hope. The age is ripe for the Maestro of the school to exert her powers over her pupils, by pitting them against one another, recognizing good work, and challenging all to rise above circumstance and need.
This is the basis of Lila and Elena's early friendship: rivalry and competition. Lila happens to be the most gifted person in her class, and the most hated and taunted child at school. She brazenly flaunts her brilliance, and seems fierce and unafraid. Likewise, Lila seems to find in Elena the one person content and motivated enough to follow her, and the only one who can see clearly to the core of who she is.
Yet, as luck would have it, the girls' paths seem fated to diverge early on. Once the time has come to advance in school, Lila's father refuses to pay the necessary fees (either because he's unable or unwilling,) whereas Elena's father is a porter and so slightly better off. Because the Cerullos are shoemakers by trade, they've become a very despondent bunch, watching the family business slowly dwindle due to the advent of new technologies and factories. Lila's father seems content to leave her laboring and virtually imprisoned in his shoe repair shop --- a situation she despises to the core and that offers no security. Lila also feels keenly the loss of any future for herself through a legitimate education, which to her equates to the loss of free will.
So it is that, by the end of this first installment, Lila becomes a young woman suffering very bitterly for her losses and her simple inability to change her life. The book moves very quickly from her earliest attempts to self-educate alongside Elena, toward other, less certain pursuits wherein Lila hopes to change her lot by influencing others she knows. Hoping for good things to happen, she makes some desperate moves that will clearly come back to haunt her. Her best intentions become twisted in the pursuit of happiness and success, and in the process, both Lila and Elena unwittingly give up on the possibility of real love or the self-empowerment that comes from genuine devotion. Ironies abound.
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND is an extraordinarily meaningful and absorbing read. I can really think of no better praise than to simply say I loved it, though that seems inadequate commendation for such a supremely talented author. I would recommend this book freely to anyone who enjoys history of any kind or a well-written novel. The ending is entirely unconventional and unexpected, so creative that it takes the reader's breath away and makes one hungry for the next installment.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith
While this is a book about friendship, I noticed that a lot of people with negative reviews came disappointed with that aspect of the book. This is a brilliant book about more than just friendship. It is also a powerful story about poverty, backwardness, class, and isolation (I know, favorite topics of most readers). What is brilliant about the book's treatment of these problems, is that while it is placed in a specific place and time (Naples in 1950s), it gets to the universal effects these problems create in people's lives from childhood onwards. In essence, it says a lot about poor rural areas or urban ghettoes in the US in 2014.
This is also a book about what it takes to get out of these problems and about the power of example, love, and friendship.
It is written in a direct and sometimes disturbing way. It's raw. There is no hiding or prettifying the truth.
So, if you are looking for a chick-lit, keep looking. If violence and abuse of any kind disturb you, move on. If you want something that will make you feel good at all times, do the same.
Finally, it gets better after a first quarter or so. It is worth sticking with it even if your are not excited early on.
“Days of Abandonment” is the best known of her half-dozen novels and the most stunning. In a stream of consciousness style, an abandoned mother of two children narrates the early weeks and months of her self-imposed seclusion and descent into near madness. However she does not dwell in self-pity, oh no; she rages, she disparages men, she seduces an even lonelier neighbor, she rails at her children, she neglects her home and herself so that one fears she might end up the crazy woman upstairs, until she oddly finds her way to equanimity. Brava! Rarely do you read such grief as charismatically, and honestly, without platitudes or over-simplifications. Here we find wrath, sometimes humor, the evolution of clarity, in a fascinating diatribe with a surprisingly satisfactory conclusion.
Ferrante might be a poster-child for the adage to write what you know. Her novels take place in Naples and within their pages we can smell the tomatoes, hear the scuffling of shoes below the window, imagine the swill of dirty water tossed from buckets to the sidewalk outside cafes. And, “My Brilliant Friend” captures multiple generations in the midst of cultural change in a city that resists change.
Elena narrates the story of her friend Lila, a unique girl who consistently defies convention even as she ultimately seeks its protection. Elena and Lila grow up in the fifties in the midst of a culture characterized by warring families and traditions. These are the descendants of the Mafia and they wield their power the old-fashioned way, with their fists and with whatever wealth they can take. Persistent class divides rely on power; women, on the other hand, ignorant and largely repressed, are possessions or ornaments. Lila, unusually smart, surly and fearless, is alternately admired and feared by all but Elena, whose intellect propels her to better schools where she might have a chance at a better life. Lila never has that opportunity, despite her superior brainpower. However Elena, as stimulated as she is at school, longs to be more like her beautiful defiant friend, the brilliant friend at the center of everyone’s life. The novel’s ending leaves the reader hanging, because the story continues in the second of the ‘Neapolitan Trilogy,’ entitled “The Story of a New Name.” which I will read next.
Start with “Days of Abandonment” for a taste of Ferrante’s elegant ferocious fiction.