Monday, July 25, 2016

Elena Ferrante - Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Neapolitan Novels #3)

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Translated by Ann Goldstein from Italian into English.

This book is the third in the Neapolitan Novels series.  We follow Lila and Lenu further as they grow into their 20s.  Lila struggles to bring up her love child Renuccio along with Enzo, who is allowed to be with her as a friend, not a lover.

Elena(Lenu) is trying to cope with the sudden success of her first book. She has money now, prestige and fame. She seems to have arrived. She even has a well-born, intelligent fiance.   On a sudden call from Lila, who is very sick, the friends reunite.  Lenu takes care of Lila, pulls strings to get her life back on rails and makes her well again.

Elena has to leave to marry her professor fiance.  Is married life going to bring her stability and greater glory? Or is the story of women the same in all strata of society? Are they looked upon as subsidiaries of men everywhere?

I have read the three Neapolitan Novels back to back.  What struck me most was the change in the tone of the books.  The first book, when Lila and Lenu are children had a 'To Kill a Mockingbird' kind of a feel to it.  The lives of adults are examined through the eyes of children.  We felt the insecurities and uncertainties of children facing terrifying poverty and anger all around them.

The second book had the insouciance of teenage lives, learning about love and life.  The girls map the changes in their bodies, the times of their mensuration, as a kind of benchmark to see who is prettier and better.  The young boys around them are growing up too and settling into professions.  Along with their assurance comes their wish to bag the best of the girls in their neighborhood.

In the third book the voices of the characters grow.  Lila and Lenu are not concerned merely with boys and spending money.  They are embroiled in life, playing with ideas, going places, getting hurt. They discover that to get ahead in life, they need backing of influential people.

The current political situation is affecting the lives of Naples. On one side the Communists are trying to rouse up the workers and creating problems, on the other side the Fascists are ready to kill the people who are trying to cause disruptions. 

Both the communists and fascists have their roots in the little suburb where Lila and Lenu grew up.  They see their childhood friends on opposing side of political spectrum, ready to kill and maim each other.  

The common people, in the meantime, are tired to their bone, exploited by their employers and loan sharks, are equally fed up with both.  An uneasy truce emerges after the people align themselves with the most powerful. It is a means of survival for them.  However, there are some guerilla like elements who are killing important people.  The people being killed are notorious for exploiting the worker class.

The familiar characters of the past two books cease being people and turn allegorical in our eyes.  Is Michele Solara just a local moneylender or is the embodiment of the 'Evil Corporate'?  He seems to be behind all evil ventures that suck the blood of the people and gets more and more powerful.  Pasquale Paluso is a vociferous communist.  Is he behind all the guerilla attacks on the rich and influential? He is the spirit of the people, the 'vigilante' who looks out for the oppressed.

Elena also gets involved with the feminist movement and begins to question the established authority of men.  The socio-political turbulence of the 70s is very prevalent in the book.

Lila and Lenu have grown in stature.  They are trying their best to live fulfilling lives in the way they know best.  They are making mistakes, but are ready to own them too.

All the three books have had a fantastic cliff-hangers for endings that have send me racing for the next in the series.


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