Italian author Elena Ferrante's best-selling, fan-favorite book, My Brilliant Friend, is now a television series on HBO. If you're a fan of the book (and its sequels in the Neopolitan series), you know what a thrill this is.
My Brilliant Friend is the story of Elena and Lila, two young girls growing up in the turbulent, impoverished world of 1950s Naples. The story is told from the point-of-view of Elena, decades later, after Lila has mysteriously disappeared. The two girls share a deep bond; they are drawn together by their curiosity and their love of learning, and Elena recognizes something innately special in Lila. Yet as circumstance steers them in different directions (Elena follows an academic path, while Lila works for her family business) they are faced with decisions that will define their places in the world forever. It's a story that brilliantly captures the experience of being a young woman in that particular place and time, and whether you're watching it on the screen or reading it on the page, it's sure to wrap you up.
If you haven't read the books, you're missing out on one element that makes Elena Ferrante's books magical: her beautiful, brilliant prose. So, here are nine quotes that will give you a taste for Ferrante's writing and Ann Goldstein's translation — and will hopefully inspire you to pick up the book.
“We were twelve years old, but we walked along the hot streets of the neighborhood, amid the dust and flies that the occasional old trucks stirred up as they passed, like two old ladies taking the measure of lives of disappointment, clinging tightly to each other. No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another.”
“I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don't recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that's all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us.”
“There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable. The essential, however, was to know how to play, and she and I, only she and I, knew how to do it.”
"She meant something different: she wanted to vanish; she wanted every one of her cells to disappear, nothing of her ever to be found. And since I know her well, or at least I think I know her, I take it for granted that she has found a way to disappear, to leave not so much as a hair anywhere in this world.”
"Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don't want to think about the rest. Children don't know the meaning of yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”
“At the fourth flight Lila did something unexpected. She stopped to wait for me, and when I reached her she gave me her hand. This gesture changed everything between us forever.”
“To cause pain was a disease. As a child I imagined tiny, almost invisible animals that arrived in the neighborhood at night, they came from the ponds, from the abandoned train cars beyond the embankment, from the stinking grasses called fetienti, from the frogs, the salamanders, the flies, the rocks, the dust, and entered the water and the food and the air, making our mothers, our grandmothers as angry as starving dogs.”
“Our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life.”
“She was struggling to find, from inside the cage in which she was enclosed, a way of being all her own, that was still obscure to her.”