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Book Review of My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

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review by Anita James

Even the title begs the question:  who’s brilliant, is it friendship?

This is an unusual book. The story is that of the coming of age of two little girls in a Neapolitan slum just after WWII. The way it is told is not in any way ‘nice’, not in feelings, events or language. Life is hard, dangerous and emotions visceral; the children are not spared any of  this reality.  Like the old portraits of children, they are people, just small in stature and learning to live by observing and doing. No allowances are made for childhood vulnerabilities. These are pre-Dr. Spock years; struggle and death are ever-present.

Against this rough background, Lila and Lena grow up as friends or maybe in symbiosis. They are very different; Lila is the fearless leader, Lena follows fearfully but stubbornly and when they get to school, the difference is always there. One with flashes of brilliance, the other with relentless determination and this will be their story for life. Who does better at life? We’ll know when we read the next three volumes.

The book made an impression on most of us and I hope we’ll have more encounters with Ms. Ferrante to find out which attributes, genius or dogged pursuit, are key to life. Who knows, we may even meet in the very nice room we discovered at the Villa Pastorie.

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