This is the third in Ferrante’s absolutely brilliant (so far) Neapolitan Trilogy which began with My Brilliant Friend and continued with The Story of a New Name (Oh where is that review??) – (I read in the very back section that this is not the last of the Neapolitan books – there’s at least one more coming in 9/15. – Aaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggh!)
Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave continues the story of Elena who, in mid-20th Century Naples, Italy, raises herself from a poor neighborhood girl to a successful author. The first book opens with a situation in which in middle age, Elena’s best friend from childhood, Lila, is missing and that situation has still not yet been resolved at the opening of book 3. That situation serves as a kind of frame for the entire trilogy in which Elena in the first person tells the story of her life getting out of the neighborhood while Lina doesn’t.
I love Ferrante’s writing – or her translator’s rendition of it anyway (it’s Ann Goldstein). The narrative is clear and it flows without excess anything, yet it’s not minimalist. She simply tells a good story.
The time frame for this novel is the very late 1960s and on, from basically just after the Paris Student strikes of 1968. Elena lives in Pisa and is now engaged to marry, but she travels to Milan and other cities although sometimes stays with her family in the old neighborhood in Naples. There are flashbacks or references to earlier times, even to the Four Days of Naples which occurred in 1943, before the first novel but when certain events divided the neighborhood. An awareness of what occurs in the first two books is essential.
As Lena goes about her new life as a successful academic and author, she is reminded of Lila’s predicament, living with one man and her child by another man, working in a horrendous factory situation, stuck, really, in the old neighborhood with all its degradations – especially for women there. As girls, Lila had been the friend with real promise, the one who did better in school, the one who designed the shoes for her father’s shoe company, the one who sought freedom for herself. Now? It’s not like that.
Lena’s novel is a success but it deals with a sexually “liberated” woman and that seems to affect her personal life and via the reactions and expectations of her family and other readers’. And she finds out that Nino, the man she and Lila had both love, has become just like his father who molested Lena as a child. Elena is struggling with sexuality and feminism of young women in the contemporary world.
Lila’s thread starts at about 20% and finds her living with Enzo and her child by Nino, Gennaro. Lila and Enzo work on computer projects for his education after their regular jobs which are very low paid and hard – Lila is sexually harassed at hers and Lila speaks up, gets noticed by the unionizers and in more trouble at work. Lila’s thread then ends and Elena’s picks up again for the rest of the book.
This is where politics enters the story but it’s never about the politics – the union organizers have as many issues with women and feminism as the fascists. The real point of this book is the 3rd wave feminism, from sex to careers to motherhood to all the ways women live their lives with men, with other women, with their children and with society.
Both women have serious problems with their mothers. Elena’s mother wants money and wants for her to marry in the Catholic church. Lila’s mother is angry at the trouble Lila has caused by her love life and the money associated.
The differences between the two women are apparent and they really go back to when the two were girls. Both seem like strong women, but Lila is very proud and rebellious and still, it’s Elena who chooses the apparently independent route. But appearances can be deceiving and courses can change. Where Lila adopts the success model of the neighborhood, with marriage and family determining her path, Elena sets out in a more independent direction, finishing college, getting a career, breaking with the neighborhood in her own ways.
The story continues into Elena’s less than happy marriage and her inability to really leave her old Naples neighborhood.
I didn’t download the pdf – just click the x to close the box: