My Brilliant Friend is the first of four novels in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series. In it the childhood, adolescence, and close friendship of two girls, Lila Cerullo, and the story’s narrator, Lenuccia (or “Lenù”) Greco, unfolds. It is Naples, Italy during the 1950s. Highly intelligent and struggling to break out of the grinding poverty and family rivalries which hold them, the two girls employ various strategies to survive, and to try to advance.
My Brilliant Friend is not only about the internal machinations of an abiding human bond, but also depicts social mores, the repression of independent thinking, and the confines unique to women in poverty. Education is the rocky path out of the social quicksand articulated in the story but few can traverse it or overcome the choke hold of social ties to free themselves. Persistence and acquiescence, violence and manipulation, the strength required to question the status quo, and the inner fortitude forged in the narrator are powerful themes in this glorious novel.
Tragic and artfully drawn, My Brilliant Friend reveals the layers and generations of relationships which comprise this impoverished Neapolitan community’s life, and perhaps the life of Naples and Italy itself, and beckons the reader to reach for the next novel in the series, The Story of a New Name.