Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (2013) 5 Stars ***** (Book 3 of The Neapolitan Novels) 

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Lenu, the narrator, and her closest friend, Lila, are now in their twenties and thirties. Their relationship is still characterized by push and pull—to all appearances polar opposites who really are not so different after all. Both are strong, determined, ambitious, sexual in different ways, feminists, victims of unwanted sexual advances, social activists, politically aware, searching risk takers, reluctant mothers who act independently with decisions that further their personal goals at the expense of family obligations. They both upset the peace as they turn their backs on traditional expectations and seek out situations to place themselves at the top of their games. Which one do you think is more generous to family and friends with time and money? You might be surprised, but then again, maybe not!

This book and the whole series are set against the backdrop of the eternal political battles in Italy among Christian Democrats, Socialists, and Communists. Political views interfere with relationships. When violence erupts, it is their family, friends, and neighbors who are at the center. Mistrust abounds but the characters do their best to pretend they don’t see or don’t suspect, not wanting to believe the worst or contribute to information leading to capture by the police.

Lenu now lives in Florence with her good, but boring and aloof husband and two daughters, at first enjoying fame from her critically acclaimed book and public lectures on feminism and the plight of women. Lenu then hits a low point in her creativity as her popularity declines and she temporarily devotes herself to household responsibilities. Needing a catalyst to jump-start her life, Lenu rekindles a relationship with an old flame which destroys the tranquility of her family life.

Lila has remained in Naples now working at the sausage factory, and having left her husband, is living in near poverty with her son and an old friend, Enzo, who accepts the lack of reciprocal love and happily offers a modicum of financial support and protection. Lila becomes an advocate for the workers at the sausage factory and her outspoken, demanding ways result in a restructuring of her place of employment. The relationship with Enzo gradually grows as they study together to learn new skills to improve their plight. While Enzo initially is thought to be the superior one, Lila quickly overtakes him as new opportunities and demand for her services pull Lila out of her financial slump.

While people admire the accomplishments of those who succeed, there is always the feeling of abandonment. Sure, you’re rich and famous but you turn your back on the rest of us who need you in our lives. What would happen if we all walk away? We helped raise you up, and where are you now?

 

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full-time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  My Brilliant Friend has already aired on HBO. Although I do not know the time frame, books two and three are scheduled to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story. Hopefully, the fourth book will be added to this HBO series. I look forward to reading and reviewing the last book in the series.

The review for The Story of the Lost Child will be published on January  16, 2019.

Ciao bella!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

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Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante 5 Stars ***** (Book 2 of The Neapolitan Novel Series)

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Reviewing a book without giving away too much is always a challenge. Set in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1960s—a place beset by poverty, domestic violence, and male domination— Lenu, our narrator, and Lila, her best friend,  are now sixteen and seventeen years old. Their conflicted but dependent relationship continues—supportive/competitive, admiring/contemptuous.

The girls’ lives have taken a more divergent path. Lenu earns her college degree on a full scholarship, is greatly admired and respected, and has published her first book. She has a number of unsatisfactory but convenient relationships with men but continues to pine for Nino. Lenu is still secretive about her sexuality and still has not learned to share her true feelings. Lila is the mother of a small boy. Her marriage is in a shambles with her shrewish, destructive, self-centered, combative, blatantly sexual nature, i.e., sexual with everyone except her husband. With a ruined reputation, still, there are no shortage of men to pick up Lila’s pieces.

Lenu is once more forced to question Lila’s motives when Lila’s decisions put her at odds with Lenu’s deepest, but still carefully hidden, desires.

Some thought-provoking images:

Lina refers to her wedding ring, ” …what is this gold circle, this glittering zero I’ve stuck my finger …”

Lenu is complimented by Armando, Professor Galiani’s son and the rare center of attention when she attends a party with Lila at the professor’s  home, ” He was absolutely the first person to show me in a practical sense how comfortable it is to arrive in a strange, potentially hostile environment, and discover that you have been preceded by your reputation, that you don’t have to do anything to be accepted, that your name is known, that everyone knows about you, and it’s the others, the strangers, who must strive to win your favor and not you theirs.”

After the party, Armando shows a romantic interest in Lenu, but her confidence has eroded, “I was pleased because he obviously liked me, and I was polite, but not available. Lila’s words had indeed done damage. My clothes were wrong, my hair was wrong, my tone of voice was false, I was ignorant…”

After Lenu has broken Antonio’s heart, his sister, Ada, captures the truth as she tells Lenu, “You have no feelings, just look how you treated my brother.” I reminded her with an angry snap that it was her brother who had left me, and she replied, “Yes, anyone who believes that is lucky: there are people who leave and people who know how to be left.”

An amazing character study, we witness the push and pull of everyday life, some more obvious than others, as characters attempt to jockey into position to realize their desired end result, some successful, some always behind the eight ball. Why? Because there’s always another bigger, badder character without scruples or loyalty, who will stop at nothing to attain what they want, and to keep everyone else from getting theirs. One- upmanship always at work.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full-time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  My Brilliant Friend has already aired on HBO. Although I do not know the time frame, books two and three are scheduled to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story.Hopefully, the fourth book will be added to this series. I look forward to reading and reviewing the next two books.

The review for Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  will be published on January 12, 2019.

Ciao bella!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Thank You Barnes & Noble, Stamford, CT For a Successful Encore Book Signing

Thanks to all who helped make my encore book signing on Jan. 6, 2019 at Barnes & Noble, Stamford, CT a success!

Encore Book Signing! Barnes & Noble, Stamford, CT Today, Jan. 6

Encore Book Signing!

Please join me today at B&N, Stamford, CT today, Sun., Jan. 6, 2019.
I am happy to say I sold out of two titles yesterday. Those titles still can be purchased online or ordered directly when you visit B&N.

 

Sunday, January 6, 2019
12:00pm-4:00pm

Stamford Town Center  
100 Greyrock Place
Stamford, CT
203-323-1248

 My Book Titles
The Science Project (sold out)
The Ocean’s Way (sold out)
Who Do Voodoo?
The Ocean’s Way Poetry Companion
Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

 

All Rights Reserved 2019

Kudos to Barnes & Noble Stamford For A Successful Book Signing

Thank you Barnes & Noble, Stamford, CT for a successful book signing on Jan. 5, 2019. And a very special thanks to Dan and Matt for their help in making this all possible. I sold out of two titles! I will be going back today, Sunday, Jan. 6, 12:00-4:00pm! Hope to see you there!

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2012) 5 Stars *****

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Where does one start to describe this book that pierces the heart and mind with a mixture of conflicting emotions as the reader struggles to take sides and assign culpability in this truly amazing coming of age story set in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1950s and 1960s? We meet the main characters Elena (Lenu), the narrator, and her best friend Raffaella (Lila), as primary grade students with a complex relationship of perpetual duality: love/frustration,  support/disinterest, trust/suspicion, understanding/judgment, admiration/resentment, emulation/rejection, cooperation/independence. The real question: Which one is truly the brilliant friend?

The characters are complex. In their early years, although opposite in personality and family circumstances, they are on the same plane. By the time middle school comes about, Lenu is a quiet, shy, studious, secretive, passive aggressive, pleasing follower while Lila is a boisterous, confrontational, elusive, rebellious, self-taught leader. Lenu’s family allows her to complete high school while Lila’s family demands that she leave school after the elementary level to help in the family business. As youngsters, Lenu is the pretty one, while as teenagers, Lila develops into the seductress. The more demanding and manipulative she is, the more the boys adore Lila. Both girls give off conflicting messages as they engage in a rivalry to establish themselves as the superior one. Lila is the first to marry at age sixteen. Despite Lila’s apparent independent strength, she is the one who is entrapped by the norms of the society in which they live, while Lenu’s education appears to open her mind to the possibility of a different way of life. This book is an excellent source for a course on women’s studies, the plight of women, or sociology in a male dominated society.

As in any poor neighborhood where the residents are struggling for basic existence, living in close quarters, and searching for ways to make money to improve their lives and provide for their families, illegal activities and violent episodes mar the tranquility of daily life. Point, counterpoint. The residents of this embroiled village victimize each other. Who else is there in this static town where new people do not move in and residents hardly move out? Today you’re up. Tomorrow you’re down. But not for long. And so it goes.

It appears that the representation of everyday life in this part of Italy, while not flattering, is accurate. Major and minor characters are complex. They seem real. Could it be that they are truly a figment of the author’s imagination?

I happened to read this book coincidentally as the HBO mini-series of the same name aired. The series is true to the book. Many of the lines were taken straight from the book dialogue spoken in Neapolitan dialect with English subtitles. A few minor details were changed, but too few to mention. Hearing the familiar  Neapolitan dialect which I learned from exposure to my Neapolitan mother and grandmother made the series all the more enjoyable for me. All in all, a brilliantly written book has been made into an equally  brilliant mini-series. I believe we can expect a host of awards for this one.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  Although I do not know the time frame for these HBO presentations, we can expect at least the next two books to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story. I look forward to reading and reviewing the next three books.

The review for The Story of a New Name will be published on January 9, 2019.

Ciao bella!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Signing: Barnes & Noble, Stamford, CT- Please Join Me!

Please join me!

                                  

Saturday, January 5, 2019
11:00am-6:00pm

Stamford Town Center  
100 Greyrock Place
Stamford, CT
203-323-1248

 My Book Titles
The Science Project
The Ocean’s Way
Who Do Voodoo?
The Ocean’s Way Poetry Companion
Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

Please visit my website elainedonadio.com for study guides aligned with state standards for science, social studies, and literacy.

All rights reserved January, 2019.

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 4 Stars ****

It’s such a pleasure to read a book written on an adult level with sophisticated vocabulary, complex ideas, and memorable phrases. I loved it and was captivated by the story and the writing.

The book starts out in the 1930’s with eleven year old Anna Kerrigan who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, and developmentally and physically disabled sister, Lydia.  Anna’s mother is obsessed with caring for Lydia. Anna and her father, Eddie have an unusually strong bond, so much so that he often brings his daughter with him when he acts as a bagman for local gangsters and dock and union workers.

He teaches her to be strong, to hide the truth, and keep her mouth shut. Anna brings these qualities into adulthood as she works for a defense plant during WWII. She decides she wants to become the first woman diver to aid the war effort despite the push-back she encounters during training and missions. She excels and becomes well-respected. Anna lives independently and with purpose but the reader is not privy to Anna’s heart and head to really understand how she comes to choose this job over others that might be equally as helpful to society and challenging.

It’s hard not to do Spoiler Alerts when discussing the plot. Let’s just say there are many twists and turns in the story, but yet they are expected. The story is told by a narrator but the action alternates with Anna, her father, and gentleman gangster Dexter Stiles. Lots of back stories on these three. Why? Maybe the author is trying to highlight the complexity of character and how even “bad” people have redeeming qualities in parts of their lives and are capable of great intelligence in specific areas? Maybe a little too much?

The reader sees a lot of street smarts and heroism on the part of characters whose lives are less than admirable. Too much tell and not enough show. I believe the author could have devoted the time to developing Anna’s character with transitions, conversations and diary entries rather than using the narrator to fill in motivations for decisions rather than filling the pages with extraneous details about lesser characters.

The ending? Not really a surprise, but then again….I wanted to hear Eddie’s rationale about some poor choices he made. Why did Dexter Stiles make a sloppy decision that endangered his position? If the author did not want to complete these characterizations, she should not have included the events that led to these questions.

There are also some unrealistic events.  For example, Eddie’s escape, Anna’s strength despite weighing a little over one hundred pounds, Lydia being carried up and down six flights of stairs by one person, near drowning victims not struggling while being saved by Eddie who is not a large man but still demonstrates the strength of a superhero.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adriaan Verheul 5 Stars *****

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adrian Verheul  (2017) 5 Stars *****

A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wanton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a work of fiction. Details, explanations, actions, behaviors, and streams of consciousness that seem to reflect the soul of the author are on point—feeling like a recounting of what actually happened rather than a list of fabricated events. This author knows his stuff.

The author, Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

Oliver, the main character, takes a leave from his position as a banker to recover and bring home the body of his father Johan from a God-forsaken jungle land plagued by violence. Johan was on a mission to supply great sums of money to Captain Christmas, a vicious war lord, in exchange for the surrender of guns. Promises were made, but not kept. Oliver discovers that everyone is on the take—from government officials to the police and morgue employees. Want to go home with your father’s body? It will cost you. Want them to tell you who killed your father and why? It will cost you. Want to meet up with the powerful warlord, Captain Christmas,  who has all the answers? It will cost you. The problem is, money is paid out but answers do not flow in.

A clean death is swift and painless without needless suffering. Johan was shot twice in the heart, giving him a clean death, demonstrating that whoever killed him, liked and respected him. It’s almost a sign of affection and deference in a violent society. Hmmm.

This brings us to Davey, a young, idealistic American proponent of an armed citizenry. He believes that guns are for self-protection and disarmament is a tool of the establishment to suppress its people. Davey travels to the City By the Water to verbally support the armed marauders. You see, Davey has no idea of the horrors Captain Christmas and his terror group have inflicted on the innocent: gutting, body mutilations, rapes, beheadings, parents being forced to eat the intestines of their dead children to name a few. Oliver and Davey cross paths. Davey learns his lesson, and returns to the United States as a broken man. On the other hand, this jungle fiasco acts as a magnet for Oliver, capturing his mind and heart.

I tried to surmise the setting by Googling what I thought might be clues: City By the Water, John Cabrero aka Captain Christmas, V6, Skipper Boutique, Colonel Neptune, local drinks mentioned. Nothing. Dead end. (By the way, the author stated in a published interview response that he actually has met people who go by some of these names.) I entered the topography of the region and got a few bites. By process of elimination, I decided war-torn Africa is a likely location. Further research pointed to Democratic Republic of Congo where a heavy United Nations presence led to more harm than good, according to local officials. This is in the midst of Rwandan genocidal Hutu maniacs fleeing to DR Congo, inflicting even more pain and horrors on their already desperate country. Also ignored are the efforts at peacekeeping, reconstruction of country and military, democratic elections, and the aid in rebel opposition. According to the DR Congo government, the helpers didn’t help—just made things worse. Huh? This little bit of history corroborates the events in the book.

I don’t know if I am correct in my guess of settings. Maybe as a clue or a red herring, the cover photo is attributed to a photo taken at the DR Congo. But, what I do know, like the book and as in real DR Congo history, the government benefitted from the chaos, and they were not sincere in wanting it to end.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved 2018

Author Interview: Adriaan Verheul (A Clean Death, 2017)

Author Interview: Adriaan Verheul ( A Clean Death, 2017) 

In A Clean Death we meet the main character Oliver, a conservative banker, who takes a leave from his job in order to recover and bring back the body of his murdered father, Johan, from a God-forsaken jungle nation beset by chaos and horrors. A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wonton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a fictional account.

I had the pleasure of meeting Adriaan Verheul recently and was immediately pulled in by the subject matter of his book. Adriaan graciously agreed to this interview which offers further clarification  of an internationally complex plot. Adriaan brings a wealth of background knowledge as evidenced by the series of events. Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

 What is the significance of the title A Clean Death?
Well, the idea was that the death of the Johan character would be clean, quick and painless, in contrast to some of his actions and the morality of his environment, which is dirty and corrupt. His death is pretty much the only clean thing around, as his son, who comes to collect his remains, finds out over time. Also, Johan, the expatriate, dies cleanly but some of the locals are not so fortunate, a reflection on justice in dying.

How has your professional background given you insight into the real life issues on which the story is based?
I spent about five years in countries immediately after war, or still in the throes of ethnic strife or armed rebellion. So, the inspiration for the book came out of my experience in dealing with local, often corrupt officials and rebel warlords, as well as with several international organizations, which have their own dynamics and interests. I have met with characters like Bruno, Captain Christmas or Lampuit, the morgue director, who is as pompous and corrupt as he is fat. Yet, none of the events or characters in the book are real. It’s all made up.

Why did you choose to keep the exact location of the story vague?
Not just the location, but also the ethnicity of the characters in the book. There are two reasons: one, I wanted to avoid a story about a particular country, whether it would be Congo, Uganda, or South Sudan, in order to be free of historical or geographical truths. The situations in such countries are extremely complex and I wanted to make this more about the characters than the location. Two, the horror in such countries has already given Africa a bad name, while in reality what we see are manifestations of human nature. The cruelty that happens in some places in the book, can happen anywhere, has happened everywhere, and through the vagueness, I wanted the reader to reflect on that fact.

Which character best captures your philosophy?
None. But if I would have to choose it would be Oliver, the son, who struggles a bit in understanding the environment of his father, that is so much different from the comfortable suburban environment where he had settled, and then has a hard time coming back home. I have made such transitions, back and forth, quite a few times myself.

If your book were to be made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the lead roles?
I guess Clooney as Johan, really any thirty year old actor for Oliver, maybe Barkhad Abdi (the pirate in Captain Phillips) as Captain Christmas, Scarlett Johansson as Vashti. I am sure, however, that casting directors could do a much better job. The setting would have to be overwhelming as well, big skies, big mountains, deep forest, etc.

Tell us about your writing process and how you brainstorm ideas.
I take a long time to work on the plot and the characters, about a year. Then once I start writing I make adjustments as I go along. I change the plot to fit the character development and the other way around. Very often ideas come to me unexpectedly. I wake up at night or am under the shower and the light goes on. ‘This is what so and so should say or do and for these reasons and to this particular impact on the story.’ In a few cases, I let the text flow to a point Where I do not know what to do next, so I stop writing and wait until I have processed the next steps.

Why did you choose to end the book the way you did? In re-reading your final product, what, if anything, would you change?
I wanted the book to be realistic. Very often international interventions are incapable of bringing about change. So, in the book, change happens as a result of local, domestic dynamics. Ultimately, Johan’s murderer is perhaps an obvious suspect, but the real question is whose bidding he was doing. Things are rarely what they seem. If I would change anything, I might perhaps have a little more action in the beginning.

What message do you want to send to the world?
Unintended consequences rule the world. We, as individuals as well as the human race, do not know what we are doing. You plan one thing, the other thing happens. We invent plastic, then we destroy the ocean. You enter into a relationship and things happen that you did not predict. Johan tried to disarm Christmas’ rebels but gets sucked into corruption and gets killed. Difficult moral choices, in particular, can go disastrously wrong. At the same time, we can’t help ourselves and in order to go forward we need to make those choices. Also, I believe the story of A Clean Death has never been told through a novel, which I  believe is a much better vehicle to convey complex stories at the human level, than academic studies and official reports (which I used to write).

What story ideas for your next book are floating around your mind?
A few. I have worked on a plot for a suburban drama around a home owners association, as well as on a plot about the assassination of a third-party presidential candidate who threatens to undermine the two-party system in the US. More promising, however, is a sequel type book about a man (Oliver, perhaps) who lives in three different social worlds and has a hard time adjusting in moving among the three, trying to keep them apart. He tries to escape but he can’t. At the same time, I am translating A Clean Death into Dutch, my mother tongue.

Any final thoughts?
Thank you for doing this. It was fun to do and I hope your readers find it interesting.

 

Thank you, Adriaan, for adding insight to your work by graciously agreeing to this interview.

A Clean Death is available on Amazon in printed and digital formats. 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

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