I was looking for a book to take on a trip, when I stumbled on this carefully crafted novel at our local warehouse store. It caught my attention because it is about two girls growing up in post-war Naples. It is written by one of the hottest Italian novelists and translated into English.
The most significant accomplishment of this novel is it’s ability to portray the weight of life in Italy. Sixty years after the setting of the story, the weight still exists. It’s something we found really hard to put into words for our American friends when we lived there. . . the lack of hope most Italians feel in ever expecting life circumstances to be different. Our country was built on the “American Dream”–put your mind to it, and you can do anything. It’s hard for us to fathom anyone not having the same mentality.
Italians don’t. For the most part, they are resigned to their lot in life, without regard for whether it is what they want or don’t want. Change, though technically possible, is not probable.
My Brilliant Friend begins current day, to paint a picture of the result of the story to be told. It’s a short introduction before spending the rest of the novel following two friends as they navigate growing up in a neighborhood of Naples, just after World War II. It does a phenomenal job portraying the sense of family that exists in neighborhoods in Italy. Life does not exist beyond the boundaries of one’s neighborhood.
These two girls wrestle with what friendship looks like. Can friendship exist when it’s always unbalanced? How much can a girl determine her future in a society driven entirely by the men?
The novel ends with no grand closure, and yet I found myself missing Elena and Lila. I wanted to know if they ever experienced happiness. The cover of the book indicates there will be more to this story, but the author is so elusive, who knows.
This was a great book. Not action driven, but the depth of portrayal of the characters was that of an incredibly gifted writer. If you want to feel the weight of what life is really like in Italy, this book is a must read.