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 Name7, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  My Brilliant Friend has already aired on HBO. The Story of a New Name is now airing on HBO. Although I do not know the time frame, book three is 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 list.

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, 2020

Book Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Middle Grade)

Book Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (2015) 5 Stars ***** (Middle Grade)

Ewww. Ughhh. Yuck. Dreadful. Frightful. Absurd. Wonderful. Fun. This is the most ooey-gooey kids book I’ve ever read. Loved it! If your middle grade reader is looking for a fright-night, this is the place! Set on a Caribbean island, “a Jumbie (JUM-bee) is the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that comes out at night with the purpose of causing trouble.”

There are many different types of jumbies: the douens (dwens), La Diabless (LA-jah-bless), Soucouyant (soo-coo-YAH), and Lagahoo (lah-gah-HOO)” to name a few. “The jumbie crawled with ease over thick trunks and gnarled underbrush, even though night in the forest was pitch-black.” Their purpose? To disrupt, terrify, and kill, especially children who disobey their parents and wander into the forest at night or respond to the jumbies’ calling their names.

Feisty, brave, adventurous, confident, twelve year-old Corinne La Mer lives happily with her father, Pierre, after the death of her mother Nicole one year before. It is All Hallow’s Eve when the people of the island pay respects to their deceased relatives. Unwittingly, Corinne unleashes the power of Severine, the meanest jumbie that ever lived. A shapeshifter in the guise of a beautiful woman, Severine entices Pierre with her charms, while administering evil potions to change Corinne’s father into a mean, snarling, gnarling jumbie.

Corinne is befriended and helped by Dru, and the orphaned, homeless brothers Bouki and Malik, as well as the frog whose life Corinne saved at the beginning of the story. Corinne approaches the white witch for help, but her powers are waning with her advanced age and debilitated physical condition. Corinne learns the surprising truth about her mother, Severine, and her ancestry. Corinne wields her own magic with the fruit of the sweetest orange tree in the land, and the stone necklace, a gift from her mother before her death, which Corinne always wears tied around her neck. In the end, life returns to normal with a few exceptions—some happy, some sad.

This book is beautifully written with fully developed action and transitions. The author, born in Trinidad, appears to have a complete and subtle understanding of the subject. The book shows rather than tells, so we learn the characters by what they do and say. Inspired by the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree” this book contains heroes, villains, magic, tasks and deeds that must be accomplished to save the hero, her family and friends, and the community in which she lives. Our hero never seeks fame but steps up to the task when she realizes she’s the only one who can do it — the journey of the hero!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites @earthlink.net

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 2020

Book Review: The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (MG)

Book Review: The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (2018) (MG) 4 Stars ****

Seventh-grader Natalie Napoli becomes immersed in her science class assignments given by her very cool teacher Mr. Neely. His enthusiasm for all things science spills over to Natalie and her classmates. This happens as Natalie’s life is slowly unraveling.

Natalie’s botanist mother is suddenly depressed and emotionally, mentally, and physically unavailable as she now spends most of her days in bed in her pajamas. Natalie’s therapist father gives his wife space and encourages Natalie to do the same, while he no longer initiates family activities with his daughter. Natalie’s friendship with her once best friend Mikayla Menzer has eroded. Now, Natalie believes that Mikayla’s mother, whom Natalie once adored, is the cause of her mother’s depression. Natalie thinks Mrs. Menzer, who was her mother’s boss, fired her mother from her job at the lab, leaving her mother unglued.

Joined by her new friends and teammates Dari and Twig, Natalie is determined to enter and win the City-Wide Egg Drop Contest. Grand Prize: $500! This money will allow her to pay for a trip to New Mexico to recover a Cobalt Blue Orchid Natalie believes will instantly snap her mother out of the doldrums and put their lives back on track. Unfortunately, Natalie’s team does not win the contest. Natalie concocts a scheme to pilfer some seeds from the lab where her mother worked. Her loyal teammates accompany Natalie on this middle-of-the night-caper. Awakened by the security alarm, the sleeping guard investigates, then calls Mrs. Menzer, who in turn calls each set of parents before dropping off the three culprits at their respective homes.

Natalie learns the truth of her mother’s situation. Natalie’s mother kept a lot from her and ends up in therapy twice a week to rid herself of her demons. The family dynamics are restored and all are happy in the end. “As it turns out, you can’t always protect breakable things. Hearts and eggs will break, and everything changes, but you keep going anyway. Because science is asking questions. and living is not being afraid of the answer.”

This book is cleverly presented with visual and graphic aids. Assignments are science investigative questions on looseleaf paper. Hashtags address the students. Illustrative and labeled sketches reinforce the story line and serve as a teaching/learning tools.

Some things are not addressed in the book. The reasons for Natalie’s mother’s depression are not given, except to say it also happened when Natalie was a baby. Also, Natalie’s father is half Korean (maternal side) and half Italian (paternal side) but totally ignores and negates his Korean heritage without explanation. Let’s not forget that Natalie sneaks into her parents’ bedroom while they are sleeping, rummaging for keys, but no one wakes up. Despite the whispered conversation outside the parents’ bedroom door between Natalie and Twig (who has used the key hidden in the fake rock to enter Natalie’s house) and the downstairs conversation with Dari (who has also shown up to accompany Natalie on her seed quest), the parents don’t stir. So coincidental. Twig and Dari happen to show up just as Natalie is ready to leave. Hmmm.

The moral of this story? Don’t make assumptions. Almost everything Natalie believe to be true, isn’t. Also, kids are not responsible for fixing their parents. Outside help is needed because the solutions are beyond the powers of a child.

 

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 Review: Fish In A Tree (MG) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Book Review: Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (2015) (MG) 3.5 Stars ***1/2

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” This is the message of the book. Sixth-grader Ally Nickerson is dyslexic which means she has difficulty in learning to read which carries over to difficulty in writing words. Words may be seen as backwards or moving on the page. This book purports that Ally’s teachers, parents, and friends are not aware of her limitations. According to the story, Ally acts out or charms her way out of assignments to cover up her problem. Really? She made it to sixth grade and everyone in her life is none the wiser? At the end of the book, we discover that Ally’s seventeen year old hard-working, focused, responsible brother Travis suffers from the same problem and has hidden it also. It’s this unrealistic portrayal combined with other unrealistic events that warrants fewer stars for an otherwise charming story.

Ally receives a lot of snide remarks from the class mean girls. Characters are stereotypical. Rich bitches, weak geeks, poor paragons. Ally is sent to the principal’s office for sending a sympathy card to her teacher who is going on maternity leave. Ally sees the pretty yellow flowers on the card and believes it to be a happy card. Supposedly, she cannot read the words that express sympathy and is unaware that the card is inappropriate. Again, very unrealistic that a non-reader such as this can hide her problems, and who would be sent to the principal for sending the wrong kind of card?

Ally’s father is deployed in the army as a tank commander. As an army brat, Ally has been in seven schools in seven years. It is my understanding that families of service people generally congregate in the same areas near army bases, so this depiction of Ally being the only one in school in this situation may not be accurate. While this bit of back story  might serve to explain how Ally has not been diagnosed, it doesn’t explain how Ally’s mother misses the mark on her daughter’s and her son’s situations.

The new teacher, Mr. Daniels, suspects Ally’s problems with reading and writing and gently allows her to complete her assignments in different modalities which allow her to use her other itelligences. In time, he tutors her in reading and raises her self-esteem. This changes her behavior and Ally is voted class president. Ally makes two new friends, Keisha and Albert, who encourage and support her.

Ally now deduces that Travis shares her reading and writing problems and engages Mr. Daniels to tutor her brother.

A happy ending for all.

 

Author’s Note: Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. This reading/writing disability is a visual perception problem.  Dyslexic students may spell the same word different ways on the same page, reverse letters in writing words, and be sensitive to the contrast between a white page and dark print. Headaches are common because of eye strain in forcing the eyes to focus. Special help is generally recommended. It’s also a good idea to use an index card under each line of print to reduce the number of words seen at one time and to help keep a straight line of vision.

 

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 Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016)  (MG) 4 Stars ****( Middle Grade Book)

We meet our main character, ten year-old Raymie Clark, on June 5, 1975, as she attempts to take baton twirling lessons from eccentric Ms. Ida Nee. Louisiana and Beverly, also in Raymie’s group, meet each other for the first time as they all decide to make baton twirling their talent so each one can enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. Events conspire to prevent any actual baton twirling from taking place. Unforgiving Ms. Nee looks at any delay as an excuse to refuse to teach the girls. No one learns baton twirling, but the trio establish a much-needed supportive friendship which quite literally saves lives.

Initial impressions are dispelled as the girls slowly reveal the truth about their situations. Sunny Raymie, living with her kind, responsible mother, is heartbroken since her insurance agency owner father ran away on June 3 with the town dental hygienist without saying good-bye. Fragile Louisiana, prone to fainting spells, is being raised by her eccentric grandmother since the supposed death of her flying trapeze act parents in a drowning accident. Feisty Beverly lives with an alcoholic, physically abusive mother since her father left Florida to become a cop in New York City. The girls are desperate for loving attention, answers, and support. They give it to each other as they also receive it from responsive adults in the community.

At first, competitors for the crown, the girls judge Louisiana to be the most needy and deserving of the $1,975 prize money and encourage her to use her beautiful singing voice as her talent. The Three Rancheros, as Louisiana names the group, support Raymie through the death of a beloved neighbor, save a pitiful howling dog from the dog shelter, and help Raymie retrieve her book about Florence Nightingale from the senior nursing home. Beverly, always the independent, unconventional voice of reason, picks locks to illegally enter premises to achieve what they set out to do.

In the end, Raymie literally saves Louisiana from certain death by drowning and is eternally grateful to her swimming instructor who taught her how to save Louisiana before he went away, and also remembered to say good-bye before he left. Raymie is now known as Raymie Nightingale. “It was the easiest thing in the world to save somebody. For the first time, she understood Florence Nightingale and her lantern and the bright and shining path. She understood why Edward Option, the librarian, had given her the book. For just a minute, she understood everything in the whole world … She was Ramie Nightingale, coming to the rescue.”

This is a simple, charming book, low key but increasingly powerful near the end. To be honest, I found it boring and uneventful in the beginning and almost stopped reading. The pace picked up and the events and characters became more complex. Reading this book is like spending a lazy day where nothing seems to happen but suddenly it does. I’m happy I continued with this sweet, emotionally satisfying story.

 

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 Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) 3 Stars  ***

I decided to read this book when I discovered that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington of Scandal fame collaborated to produce this book as a mini-series on Cable TV in 2020. This book is true to Reese Witherspoon’s preoccupation with struggling mother-child relationships and women’s insecurities about how they are perceived by other women and members of the closed, competitive societies in which they live. This book reminded me so much of the dialogue in Big Little Lies, a Reese Witherspoon HBO production, that confusion ensued and I was half-way through the book before I realized that I was in fact reading a different book, although a not so very different concept. How could I confuse the two? That’s exactly my point.

The story is set in wealthy, planned, idealistically Utopian striving Shaker Heights, Ohio between 1997-1998. There were so many characters and intersecting, overlapping sub-plots that I was never sure if there was actually ever a main character. Everyone’s life, every decision, every action impacted so many others it was hard to determine who the biggest bad wolf was. Everyone had a secret. Everyone was betrayed. Everyone hid behind lies, evasions, denials. Everyone used someone to cover up or uncover things they had no business knowing or doing. Everyone made decisions and stuck their noses in other people’s business, oblivious and uncaring, creating a chain reaction that ruined people’s lives, destroyed relationships, magnified instability, encouraged chaos, and exemplified self-serving, uncommunicative, dishonest, traitorous behavior.

The significance of the title? Yes, there are little fires deliberately set at the beginning. Perhaps symbolic, little fires might also describe the characters lack of commitment for any period of time. Sparks fly initially, then die out. What doesn’t come easily is abandoned.

The ending? Three people leave town and the ones that remain continue along their merry way. Anything that was extreme and supposedly earth-shattering and heart-breaking was ignored, swept under the rug, so life went on as if nothing happened that shouldn’t have. Lose a baby? We’ll buy another one. Lose a daughter? Maybe I’ll look for her in the future when I have some time. My secret’s out? Let’s skip town and go hide somewhere else.

Nobody is accountable. No one pays the piper. Too busy running, hiding, lying, covering up, laying blame on someone else.

Is this supposed to be a learn-from- negative- events book? I don’t think so. Stereotypical characters, lacking depth and dimension. It’s way too shallow for my taste. I’m pretty sure I won’t be watching the mini-series. I resent people and characters who are careless with other people’s lives. That’s just me.

 

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 Review: The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (2015) 5 Stars *****(Book 4 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, our narrator, and her closest friend, Lila, are in their forties through sixties in this book. Their relationship still has its ups and down: interdependence/ abandonment, admiration/resentment, tenderness/anger, understanding/frustration. Lenu reinvents herself as a speaker realizing, “I had a natural ability to transform small private events into public reflection” as she becomes more and more honest and open about her herself and family and friends. Lila keeps her successes hidden from Lenu, leaving Lenu to discover Lila’s accomplishments almost by accident and as incidental comments from mutual friends.

Lenu and Lila continue separately to assert their independence from traditional domestic life, leaving human debris in their wake: hurt, accusations, insults, guilt, broken familial relationships, neglect. ‘Round and around and around they go as people from the past keep popping up, causing them to reflect on the effect of their neighborhood upbringing on their fabric as a person. Lenu tells us we never can truly shed who and where we come from. Our childhood shapes us for a lifetime and we either become trapped by it, or struggle to leave it behind.

Both women need love but often feel trapped by its obligations. Lenu demonstrates her strength as she continuously sets goals and works step by step to achieve them, still enjoying positive relationships with all those from her past. Lila, on the other hand, suffers from emotional and mental problems as she goes through life full of anger and thoughts of revenge, as she vacillates from being a tower of strength and kindness to becoming unglued, neglectful, and distracted. Negativity is her constant companion. Not only does it follow her, but she creates it and magnifies it.

I do not want to spoil the story by telling you specifically about the lost child. This terrible event remains a mystery. Blame and culpability cannot be assigned. Maybe an innocent photograph led to what happened, maybe not. Interactions by Lenu and Lila conspired to create the outcome—ironic shades of childhood—collateral damage? if you will. Still heartbreaking no matter how you slice it.

I love this series and did not want it to end.

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.

The review for Frantumaglia-A Writer’s Journey, also by Elena Ferrante, will be published on January 19, 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 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

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

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

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