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Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013)
by Elena Ferrante
Books Read in 2017 (43)
Italian Literature (21)
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Books Read in 2016 (703)
Books Set in Italy (50)
Top Five Books of 2014 (539)
Books Read in 2019 (445)
Top Five Books of 2018 (789)
Books Read in 2018 (953)
Female Author (576)
Books Read in 2021 (4,440)
Finished in 2020 (9)
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Listened to the first half, read the second half - much faster. Boy, this series is just unstoppable. I’m totally gripped, and will start reading #4 tomorrow! ( )
In the third book of the Neapolitan quartet, we follow main characters Elena and Lila into their thirties, as they develop livelihoods and rear children. Set in the 1960s-1970s Italy, this book contains more about the political climate of the era, including violent clashes between the communists and fascists. Elena and her relationships are the primary focus of this storyline with intermittent appearances by Lila.
It is a family saga filled with unpleasant people, dysfunctional relationships, and questionable decisions that complicate their lives. There are many scenes from daily life – conversations around the dinner table, phone conversations, and lots of chit-chat. Many say this is a story of female friendship, but it is not affectionate or supportive, and, in fact, seems pretty toxic. The romantic relationships are almost all toxic as well. I came away with a lukewarm feeling, but I am out of step with the numerous readers who love this series. I liked it enough to read the final installment.
Finished it five minutes ago. It was a rollercoaster like the other two volumes. What changed is my admiration for Elena Greco - by the end of the book she made me a angry for her choice. Someone who wrote a beautiful review here said it so well: "everyone has to make their own mistakes". I guess it's very true for the generation of the Italian women in the 60s and 70s, who were early in trying to settle down and build families, as it is true for women worldwide today who settle down later: some mistakes that love pushes you to make are unavoidable. And the more you raised yourself on the straight and narrow, the more you abstained yourself from getting detailed from the social standard, the more prone you are to just go down one day with a bang.
Is Elena forgiveable? Probably yes. Will she be able to forgive herself? I wonder. I'm curious about how that will unwind in the last volume.
The third book in the Neapolitan quartet continues on where the story left off. The woman are now in their early twenties and are dealing with marital issues, child rearing, career development and most importantly trying to find their place in the world. Our protagonist has left Naples for greener pastures, but is constantly drawn back into her past. This is a wonderful examination of the socio-economic issues during the later 50s and 60s in post-war Italy as well as a gripping tale of friendship, love and loss.
Lila married at 16 now has a son, has left her marriage and it’s advantages, and works as a common laborer in horrendous conditions. Elena has left the neighborhood, graduated from college, and has published a successful novel opening a new world to her. Both women fight against a world of oppression amidst a time of great opportunities that were opening for women during the seventies.
Writing about the Brilliant Friend books has been one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever done. When I began, I thought I felt this way because I loved them so much and didn’t know where to start with all my praising. Then I had to fight a deep desire not to mention the things I most liked in the novels so I could keep them to myself. Now my view of the matter is that somehow Ferrante so thoroughly succeeds in her aim of seizing at “the evasive thing” that she has stirred up something from the depths of her mind that touches and spreads through mine.
It has to do, presumably, with femininity, with having been a girl who loved reading and was supposed to know that you have to let the boys keep winning at math. It has to do too with the less gendered but even more bodily experience of living in and through a mind. And it has to do, profoundly, with living in a mind and being touched by another one: delighted, exasperated, confused, envious, sorrowful, appalled. As the years go by, the women in these novels allow the holes in their friendship to spread, yet Elena feels the presence of Lila constantly, an almost physical pressure, a disturbance in the air. Telling her own story, she thinks, is easy enough: “the important facts slide along the thread of the years like suitcases on a conveyor belt at an airport.” But involving Lila, “the belt slows down, accelerates, swerves abruptly . . . The suitcases fall off, fly open, their contents scatter here and there. Her things end up among mine.”
“May I point out something?” Lila says to Elena in one of the women’s scarce, increasingly ill-tempered phone conversations in the Seventies. “You always use true and truthfully, when you speak and when you write. Or you say: unexpectedly. But when do people ever speak truthfully and when do things ever happen unexpectedly? You know better than I that it’s all a fraud and that one thing follows another and then another.”
This, in a nutshell, is Lila’s problem, perhaps her tragedy. She thinks so fast and with such ferocious rigor; she sees connections and discerns so many fine distinctions; she’s impossible and overwhelming — “too much for anyone” and, most of all, for herself. But Elena keeps thinking about her, putting her on the page. Great novels are intelligent far beyond the powers of any character or writer or individual reader, as are great friendships, in their way. These wonderful books sit at the heart of that mystery, with the warmth and power of both.
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Gallimard, Folio (6402)
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Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Ferrante's fame as one of our most compelling, insightful, and stylish contemporary authors has grown enormously. She has gained admirers among authors--Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Messud, to name a few--and critics--James Wood, John Freeman, Eugenia Williamson, for example. But her most resounding success has undoubtedly been with readers, who have discovered in Ferrante a writer who speaks with great power and beauty of the mysteries of belonging, human relationships, love, family, and friendship. In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts of her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of mystery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to see each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)853.92Literature Italian Italian fiction 1900- 21st Century
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