Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp

Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

Last summer I wrote a post about Naples in the blog’s « Books, Movies and Beyond» section. When reading it again, I have to recognize it is a little empty: many references to classical French authors such as Alphonse de Lamartine and Théophile Gauthier from a period when Naples was still making people dream; books and movies about islands and beaches such as Ischia and Capri, still dreamlike destinations. But there was no Italian novels in my suggestion list. And let’s face it, it now a long time since Naples is not the stuff of dreams, especially among Italians.

I hope to have corrected my mistake by recently reading the “Neapolitan Novels” by Elena Ferrante:  “My Brilliant Friend”, « The Story of a New Name », « Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay » and « The Story of the Lost Child ». One of the most discussed point about these series is the fact that author – using the pseudonym of Elena Ferrante- has managed to remain completely anonymous. She gives her interviews by email and never appears on TV. Even her translator Ann Goldstein doesn’t know who she is. We only know she is a woman born in Naples. In Italy, controversies and gossip abound. Why does she remains anonymous? Is she among the jurors of a literary prize for which her books are competing?

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Elena Ferrante makes clear that she chose anonymity in order to focus the attention on her work and not her person. Let’s follow her advice: the four Neapolitan novels are a real master piece. Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo are two friends growing up during the 50s in a poor neighborhood in Naples. They are the two best students in their class, but only Elena will continue in secondary school and later at the university. At 16, Lila will marry the son of the rich neighborhood’s grocer. The four novels follow the life itineraries of both women, their close friendship, but also their rivalry. Across the pages, the reader discovers their childhood fears, their teenage desires, he sees them confronting domestic violence and unfaithfulness and follows them in their doubts and crises as these two mothers reach old age.

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Naples plays a central role in the story. It is not the Naples from the postcards. A poor neighborhood scarred by the political divisions born from World War II and by the pernicious and unescapable presence of the Camorra, featured by the Solara family. Elena wants to leave the city thanks to her studies and a brilliant literary career leading her to Pisa, Milan or Genoa, while Lila will never leave it, staying in the same neighborhood where she will start successful businesses. But it is there that Elena will come back with her daughters after having left her husband and failed to move in with her lover, Nino. She will end up living one floor above Lila.

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Elena and Lila’s lives closely follow the upheavals of Naples and Italy’s history: economic growth, red terrorism, earthquake, the fight against the mafia. But in my opinion the strength of Elena Ferrante’s novels is found elsewhere: in her ability to use a language without artifice and everyday dialogues to build a story starting from two relatively simple lives and nevertheless lead us into an exciting and breathtaking series.

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Finally what seduced me most in those four books is to read a story in which a woman’s point of view, a woman’s voice is clearly audible. This might be due to my own reading choices, but I have rarely encountered the impression to be so completely given access to a female state of mind and perception.  Maybe when reading Marguerite Duras or Jane Austen. But not with such evidence. Elena Ferrante describes Elena and Lila’s desires and culpabilities, she makes us feel how they perceive their bodies and tells us the ambivalent friendship and rivalry which united them, ambivalence which crystalized around Nino whom they both loved. This was a fascinating discovery.

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