Sunday, July 24, 2016

Elena Ferrante - The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan Novels #2)

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Translated by Ann Goldstein from Italian into English.

The story of Lila and Elena continues in the 2nd installment of the Neapolitan Novels.  The girls are sixteen and have chosen diametrically different paths from each other.  Lila is married to Stefano Carracci, the gentle, soft spoken, grocer. Everyone envies Lila.  She is a posh young woman now.

Almost all the boys in the neighbourhood had coveted Lila.  She is no longer a scrawny 12 year old, but a tall beautiful young woman who seems to attract all men to her.  By contrast, Elena is bookish, pimply and ungainly.  She has continued to study, unlike the children of the little niche of Naples.  She has to study very hard, depend on scholarships and gifts of books from her old teacher.

Is she right in being envious of Lila?  Has she chosen the right path? Who of the two friends will wind up happier?

We are drawn once again into the world of Elena Greco and Lila.  The little band of boys and girls who grew up in abject poverty are tied together.  Some of them become rich by devious means and some of them are still struggling.  

The conflicts between the friends remind me of Lord of the Flies. They are constantly at strife with each other to gain the maximum power and money.  The most cruel and the most unscrupulous are the ones who win.  

Lila tries to stop the madness and keep her loved ones from making wrong decisions.  Being a woman, she is unable to prevent the madness of men, and finds herself being trampled.

Elena has her own battles to fight and hardships to overcome, which often keeps her apart from Lila. 

Ferrante's voice is crystal clear as she speaks of the pains of growing up in places where women find no privilege, are beaten and subjected to marital rape, where women have very few choices. Even in the Lord of the Flies situation that I mentioned earlier, the power game is played among the young men, while women hover in the periphery.

While the world ponders over communism, aftermath of Hiroshima and wars, in the shabby little suburb, Elena and Lila aspire to grow out of their squalor and find love and comfort.


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