Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Brilliant Friend (L'amica geniale #1)

My Brilliant Friend
(L'amica geniale #1)

Elena Ferrante,
Ann Goldstein (Translator)


Published 2011

First Sentence
"This morning Rino telephoned."

Publisher's Description:

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.

Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.

Dear Reader,

This book was a delight and was completely unexpected. I took one look at the cover (not the one I used above, that one was changed for the paperback, thankfully) but this one:

This looks like a book I would COMPLETELY avoid. Not only does it depict a woman in a traditional wedding gown and two little children following behind... but has a beautiful scenic view. Yeah, not for me at all. However, the cover of the girl amongst the shadows... now that is intriguing. After reading the book, the paperback cover definitely does justice to the book that the hardcover took away from. I don't want to focus on this, since it's been mentioned by a bunch of people reviewing this book, but I did have to speak my peace.

Getting back to this epic Italian literary tale, I was completely ensnared into the lives of Elena and Lila. At first I thought this was going to be a cautionary tale of how careful you have to be picking friends, but while this might be a lesson early on, the story takes a bigger look at friendship. Part of the charm is the setting, Italy. When I think of Italy I see romance, gondolas, high fashion and great food (I have to admit that I've traveled to Italy a few times) but My Brilliant Friend gives you a sneak peek at a different Italy, one with rags, struggle, traditions and epic family battles. I've heard and experienced the powerful Italian personalities, but this book really brings it to light. All of the characters speak their mind, swearing at one another, professing love, throwing themselves into romance and passion. Who wouldn't want to read that?

I have to apologize though, I might be mixing my feelings for the second book in the series with this one. Right after this book ends (on a cliffhanger), I picked up the next one and started reading it that same night (no sleep for the addicted reader). This novel follows the girls early childhood years, which is a great set-up but lacks the relatability with my current feelings and situations. I did connect with a few nostalgic childhood references but overall the charm was held within the differences. I loved experiencing and learning about the Italian traditions, the struggle the lower class Italians had to overcome was eye opening, from the challenges of keeping up good grades to remain in school to learning your work trade passed down from the family (giving you no room to create your own future).

This book is very unique, I'm not very fond of being sucked into a series, my "too little books, too little time" motto gets in the way. However, this is a series that I don't regret starting and will eagerly anticipate the next one.

Happy Reading,

My Brilliant Friend

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