My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante

Overview: A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Gail Reid (06/13/16): This international bestseller, translated from Italian, is the story of two best friends, growing up in postwar Naples during the late 1950's. Naples is vividly captured and most of the children and parents that Lila and Elena grow up with are poor. There is frequent violence, envy, back-stabbing, and misery.

This is not a neighborhood of warmth and nurturing but there are a few exceptions. Elena stands out because she is sent to high school, a rarity in her section of Naples, while her friend Lila, naturally brilliant, works in her father's shoe repair shop and, together with her brother, hopes to create custom shoes to elevate their circumstances. Her marriage at 16 to one of the more well-off young men from a loan shark family will help solidify her family's rise in the community.

This is the first of 4 books in a series that follows this friendship from childhood through adulthood and apparently flushes out the lives of the numerous characters in the first book. I am so disappointed because I struggled to read this novel and cannot understand its huge appeal. There are so many characters that they are difficult to keep straight. Nothing really happens for two-thirds of the book, although the complexity of friendship does come across well as the girls'relationship changes over time. There are few glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark and dismal story. I hope someone who has read all the books can enlighten me why thousands of readers and critics have called it a masterpiece.
Rating: ***

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