Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante


Title: My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1)

Author: Elena Ferrante

Published by: Europa Editions

Publishing Date: September 25th 2012

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult, Italian Literature

Pages: 331

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

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My Briallian Friend is a quite and personal book, it focuses almost entirely in these two girls, Elena and Lila, that are incredible dislikeable at times and really complex characters throughout the entire book. This is their story, from early childhood until their teenage years, and it doesn’t have much more plot than that, which can make the story slow at times. Nonetheless, reading about this two very different girls and the complicated friendship they have is never boring because the story is impeccably written with delicacy and intelligence and that makes the expirience of reading it delightful.

There are two topics that are especially interesting throughout the book: the first one is the relationship between poverty, education and violence and the second one is this exploration of living with the enemy in your neighborhood. My  Brilliant Friend does a very good job of showing the cycle of poverty: the way doors close for people without economic resourses; how even a brilliant girl sees her education interrumpted because of material circunstances; how gender plays a huge role in who gets to do what; what education can mean to the life of a person; how it can pull him or her out of that cycle of poverty; and ultimately, how violence becomes interwined in the life of people in conditions of extreme poverty and little education.

You could say this is a book plaged with tension and one of the main reasons is that it portraits the time after WWII, when people that were in opposite sides during the war had to live together. The book shows how the girls -even when they don’t really understand what is happening- pick up on the tension that is suffocating their neighboorhood. Most people relate wars with a larger scale, countries fighting each other or different sides fighting in a civil war, and even when thinking about the people involve in war it’s about what they go through during the war and not so much what happens after. In that sense, it is really interesting to read about war enemies in such a small scale, the setting is a poor neighborhood in Napoles, and realizing that when everything is said and done this people that supported different sides still have to live together and the fact that the war is over doesn’t mean they stop beliving in whatever they believed in or stop hating whoever they hated before, but they are forced to cohabitate and poverty plays an important role in that.

Finally, My Brilliant Friend tells the story of two complex girls, that have a complicated friendship and  live surrounded with violence and old tensions, while making a poignant commentary on the relationship between poverty and education.

Rating: 4 stars

Have you read this book ? Did you like it? Are you planning on reading it? 

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