MY BRILLIANT FRIEND

Book One: Childhood, Adolescence

Elena Ferrante & Ann Goldstein (Translator)

Elena Ferrante will blow you away.”—Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on those tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully rendered in its every detail, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

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Elena Ferrante will blow you away.”—Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on those tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully rendered in its every detail, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship. Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two girls becoming women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country undergoing momentous change.

Elena Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this stylishly plotted novel, the first in a trilogy that is destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers.

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  • Europa Editions
  • Paperback
  • October 2012
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781609450786

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$17.00

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About Elena Ferrante & Ann Goldstein (Translator)

Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. She is the author of The Days of Abandonment, which the New York Times described as “stunning,” and two other novels, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter.

Ann Goldstein’s translations for Europa Editions include two novels by Amara Lakhous, two books by Alessandro Piperno, and Elena Ferrante’s three previous novels. Goldstein is head of the copy department at the New Yorker.

Praise

“The raging, torrential voice of the author is something rare.”—The New York Times

“Ferrante’s prose is stunningly candid, direct and unforgettable.”—Publishers Weekly

“Elena Ferrante is one of the great novelists of our time. Her voice is passionate, her view sweeping and her gaze basilisk . . . In these bold, gorgeous, relentless novels, Ferrante traces the deep connections between the political and the domestic. This is a new version of the way we live now — one we need, one told brilliantly, by a woman.” —Roxana Robinson, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

Amazing! My Brilliant Friend took my breath away. If I were president of the world I would make everyone read this book. It is so honest and right and opens up heart to so much. Reading Ferrante reminded me of that child-like excitement when you can’t look up from the page, when your eyes seem to be popping from your head, when you think: I didn’t know books could do this!—Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge

Discussion Questions

Why is Don Achille such an important character? His presence looms over the whole novel; what does he represent?

Throughout the novel, Lila earns her reputation as “the misfit,” while Elena comes to be known as “the good girl.” How do the two live vicariously through one another, and what is it about their differing personalities that makes their relationship credible? Which girl, if any, do you most easily identify with?

Domestic life in the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s is depicted as conservative, challenging, and at times, even severely violent. Ferrante uses the girls’ early “child play” to emulate the callous undertones of the town. Why is this analogy so successful? What is so important about Tina and Nu?

Why is Elena so invested in her education? Is it a means to an end, or an end unto itself? If a means to an end, what end? And if a means, is she being realistic or is she fooling herself?

What is revealed of the girls’ characters on the day they decide to skip school? Do these discoveries surprise you? How does this effect their relationship (or our sense of their relationship)?

Ferrante returns, once more, to the theme of “mother-daughter relationship” in My Brilliant Friend. What are the abiding characteristics of this relationship? Who do you feel suffers the most—mother or daughter? Why?

It can be assumed that Elena’s voice is behind the title of the novel, referring to Lila as “her brilliant friend.” However, toward the end of the girls’ story, it is Lila who praises Elena, and encourages her to be “the best of all, boys and girls” (pg. 312). Is this dialogue between the two girls symbolic of Lila’s surrender? Are you surprised by Lila’s words?

Lila’s rustic personality and crude comments sometimes come off as hurtful and malicious. Furthermore, although both families struggle with poverty, it is the Cerullos who appear to be the underprivileged of the two. Why, nonetheless, does Elena remain a highly devout friend? What does this say about Elena?

What do the shoes that Lila designs and makes represent symbolically? What undertones do the shoes help to evidence in the latter half of the novel?

How would the book be different if told from the point of view of Lila or another character? Is Elena’s point of view the most appropriate? Why or why not? Explain.

Page 282: “Do you love Stefano?”

She said seriously, “Very much.”

 

“More than your parents, more than Rino?”

“More than everyone, but not more than you.”

Lila’s personality seems to have grown warmer up by the end of the novel. What can we attribute this change to? Is she ready to marry?