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.

Judy Copek (04/08/19): I read this book a few years ago, and was so impressed how the author "showed" without "telling," an important trait of good fiction. The prose was such that I felt I was right there with those girls, and although I grew up in a very different culture, I could identify with them and their competitiveness. Much of the story was heartbreaking, and one often felt badly for the characters, but they were survivors, and that made one happy for this.

I also watched the program on PBS. The neighborhood violence seemed much more real on television, as the girls took it for granted, but the viewer, of course was shocked. Naples has always been reputed to be a tough place, and the show definitely emphasized it. This is one of the best books I've read in recent years, and I have the second one in the series, but am waiting for a block of time where I can really dig into it and savor.
Rating: *****

Judy Stanton (04/04/19): Recommended by a book club member in my neighborhood who wanted us to get a feel of a more European author, My Brilliant Friend was an interesting read. The book discussion mirrored the detailed look at the ups and downs of youthful friendship, the sharing of very personal moments, young loves, family issues and more. The story of two young women growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in a poor neighborhood in Naples exposes the reader to an unusual place and time, where choices in education and marriage are limited. The lead characters are well developed and short chapters make it very readable. Interestingly, the author is a very popular, though mysteriously anonymous Italian writer. Plus, the series has been made into a TV series. I found the story to make a very interesting book club read, but was not motivated by it to either watch the TV series or read the book series. Still, I am glad I read it.
Rating: ***

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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