The Historical Truth Behind Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels


Correction appended, Sept. 8

In the three years since My Brilliant Friend was first published in English, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels have wooedmanyreaders with their forceful elegance and unusual perspective on friendship. But, while the relationship between protagonists Elena and Lila is the story’s heart, there’s another character exerting a strong influence on their lives: the city of Naples, which is portrayed in gritty detail throughout the novels. When My Brilliant Friend begins, Elena and Lila are primary school students, born near the end of World War II and growing up there in the 1950s and ’60s. Though Elena escapes to a better life in other cities in the subsequent books, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Naples maintains a gravitational pull on her. In The Story of the Lost Childthe series’ final installment, out Tuesday in…

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