In New Neapolitan Novel, Fans Seek Clues About Mysterious Author&#039s Past

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The Story of the Lost Child

The Naples in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels isn’t the Italy you see on postcards. The neighborhood she describes in vivid detail is poor and unglamorous — and it could or might not be based on the neighborhood where she herself grew up. Ferrante is truly a pen name and really small is known about the accurate identity of the author. She does virtually no publicity, but that hasn’t stopped the books from attaining cult status. Her latest, The Story of the Lost Youngster, comes out on Tuesday.

No one knows for certain, but the books are extensively believed to be Ferrante’s thinly veiled autobiography. The initial-individual narrator is named Elena. She’s also an accomplished writer, reflecting on her youth in postwar Naples, and her constant struggle to flee the poverty and violence, even as the spot keeps pulling her back all through her life. At the center of it all is her difficult partnership with Lila, her lifelong very best pal.

My guides right now — Carmen Vicinanza and Lia Polcari — are locals, and longtime pals themselves. (“We appear like teenagers but we’re not,” Vicinanza says with a laugh). They’ve promised to take me to what they claim is Ferrante’s childhood neighborhood.

We start out at a tunnel which functions in the books as a hyperlink from the neighborhood to the outdoors globe. Subsequent cease is the Parrocchia della Santa Famiglia — the Parish Church of the Sacred Household. Inside the grounds is a courtyard like the 1 where Ferrante’s protagonists played as small girls.

Polcari owns a bookstore devoted to women’s literature, and formed an artist collective that creates perform inspired by Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels series. She points out that the author does not name the neighborhood in any of the books, but the clues are all around us.

She takes us to the only café in sight. The owner is a man in his 80s, who says he’s by no means read any of Ferrante’s books. That makes him the ideal individual to ask about some of the clues we’re pursuing. Like the 1st car in the neighborhood?

“It was a Fiat 1100. The owner went a tiny bit out of his thoughts,” the shop owner says.

We’re floored. It really is as if he have been talking about Marcello Solara, a villain in all 4 of the Neapolitan Novels. The uncanny similarities pile up: His nephew points out that the neighborhood shoemaker was named Gennaro and went by the nickname Rino. Even the owner is surprised by how significantly we know.

“Does the book mention me?” he asks. (He possibly would not want it to — the café owner in the books is a Mafioso). As we get ready to leave, he recalls that a Ferrante family members lived nearby, past the public gardens, across the street in the run-down, four-story white apartment buildings. The developing matches up almost completely with the description from the book.

Naples locals Lia Polcari (right), Carmen Vicinanza (left) in front of what they believe to be the childhood home of author Elena Ferrante.

Naples locals Lia Polcari (right), Carmen Vicinanza (left) in front of what they believe to be the childhood home of author Elena Ferrante. Christopher Livesay for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Christopher Livesay for NPR

We enter a courtyard and a group of women peer down from a balcony. One of my guides tells them we’re hunting for a writer. One of them responds: “Ah, you happen to be seeking for Ferrante, who lived right here a lot of years ago? They moved. But this is the home where she was born. There, on the very first floor.”

My guides are elated. “We discovered it! We discovered it!” they rejoice.

But wait a minute. If Ferrante is her pen name, what precisely have we identified? Was it also her maiden name? Are they pulling our legs?

Ferrante has in no way as soon as appeared publicly in 23 years of publishing. She only does interviews through e-mail. There’s been much speculation about her correct identity. The ladies on the balcony consider they don’t forget her first name — Anna.

One published theory claims Ferrante is actually Anita Raja, Anita getting the diminutive of Anna. Raja is a consultant for Ferrante’s Italian publisher. She is also the wife of the Neapolitan writer Domenico Starnone, who himself has been “accused” of becoming Elena Ferrante. Her editors deny it all.

“They say the darndest issues,” says editor Sandra Ferri.

Ferri understands that reclusive authors have a tendency to arouse curiosity and that could lead to sales.

“It’s not about marketing and advertising,” Ferri insists. “Every single now and once again somebody will say, ‘Ah, what a sly move to publish the books with a pen name, Ferrante is clever.’ I inform them, ‘OK. Any person can publish with a pen name and by no means reveal himself. Why don’t you do it? Let’s see how numerous men and women have the exact same final results.'”

And, she warns, Ferrante’s secrecy provides her the space she wants to generate. The author has stated that if she had been forced to reveal herself, she would not stop writing, but she’d cease publishing.

And that would be a tragedy, say my guides. And apart from, Vicinanza says, it does not genuinely matter who Ferrante is anyway.

“It’s fun, but I never think that the mysterious writer created the achievement of the book,” Vicinanza says. “I guess that the book is so sturdy that even with out the presentation, the face of the writer, it goes and it has this accomplishment. It really is the 1st case exactly where the book is stronger than the writer, than the individual. In this society, where writers are critical, they are everywhere, on Television. … With out presentation, with no interviews or anything, the books had all this good results.”

Soon after all, she adds, we would not be outside on a hot day roasting in this far-flung, small neighborhood if these books had been anything significantly less than superb.

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