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Authors: Elena Ferrante,Ann Goldstein

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My Brilliant Friend

BOOK: My Brilliant Friend
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Europa Editions
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
[email protected]
www.europaeditions.com
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2011 by Edizioni E/O
First publication 2012 by Europa Editions
Translation by Ann Goldstein
Original Title:
L’amica geniale
Translation copyright © 2012 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
www.mekkanografici.com
ISBN 9781609458638

Elena Ferrante

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND

Translated from the Italian
by Ann Goldstein

THE LORD:
Therein thou’rt free, according to thy merits;
The like of thee have never moved My hate.
Of all the bold, denying Spirits,
The waggish knave least trouble doth create.
Man’s active nature, flagging, seeks too soon the level;
Unqualified repose he learns to crave;
Whence, willingly, the comrade him I gave,
Who works, excites, and must create, as Devil.
J. W. GOETHE
,
Faust
,
translation by Bayard Taylor

INDEX OF CHARACTERS

The Cerullo family (the shoemaker’s family):

Fernando Cerullo
,
shoemaker.

Nunzia Cerullo
,
wife of Fernando and Lila’s mother.

Raffaella Cerullo
,
called
Lina
, and
by Elena
Lila
.

Rino Cerullo
,
Lila’s older brother, also a shoemaker.

Rino
, also the name of one of Lila’s children.


Other children.

 

The Greco family (the porter’s family):

Elena Greco
,
called
Lenuccia
or
Lenù.
She is the oldest, and after her are
Peppe
,
Gianni
,
and
Elisa.

The
father
is a porter at the city hall.

The
mother
is a housewife.

 

The Carracci family (Don Achille’s family):

Don Achille Carracci
,
the ogre of fairy tales.


Maria Carracci
,
wife of Don Achille.


Stefano Carracci
,
son of Don Achille, grocer in the family store.

Pinuccia
and
Alfonso Carracci
,
Don Achille’s two other children.

 

The Peluso family (the carpenter’s family):

Alfredo Peluso
, carpenter.

Giuseppina Peluso
, wife of Alfredo.

Pasquale Peluso
, older son of Alfredo and Giuseppina, construction worker.

Carmela Peluso
, who is also called
Carmen
, sister of Pasquale, salesclerk in a dry-goods store.

Other children
.

 

The Cappuccio family (the mad widow’s family):

Melina
, a relative of Lila’s mother, a mad widow.

Melina’s
husband
, who unloaded crates at the fruit and vegetable market.

Ada Cappuccio
, Melina’s daughter.

Antonio Cappuccio
, her brother, a mechanic.

Other children
.

 

The Sarratore family (the railroad worker poet’s family):

Donato Sarratore
, conductor.

Lidia Sarratore
, wife of Donato.

Nino Sarratore
, the oldest of the five children of Donato and Lidia.

Marisa Sarratore
, daughter of Donato and Lidia.

Pino
,
Clelia
, and
Ciro Sarratore
, younger children of Donato and Lidia.

 

The Scanno family (the fruit and vegetable seller’s family):

Nicola Scanno
, fruit and vegetable seller.

Assunta Scanno
, wife of Nicola.

Enzo Scanno
, son of Nicola and Assunta, also a fruit and vegetable seller.

Other children
.

 

The Solara family (the family of the owner of the Solara bar-pastry shop):

Silvio Solara
, owner of the bar-pastry shop.

Manuela
Solara
, wife of Silvio.

Marcello
and
Michele Solara
, sons of Silvio and Manuela.

 

The Spagnuolo family (the baker’s family):

Signor Spagnuolo
, pastry maker at the bar-pastry shop Solara.

Rosa Spagnuolo
, wife of the pastry maker.

Gigliola Spagnuolo
, daughter of the pastry maker.

Other children
.

 

Gino
, son of the pharmacist.

 

The teachers:

Maestro Ferraro
, teacher and librarian.

Maestra Oliviero
, teacher.

Professor Gerace
, high school teacher.

Professor Galiani
, high school teacher.

 

Nella Incardo
, Maestra Oliviero’s cousin, who lives on Ischia.

PROLOGUE
Eliminating All the Traces
1.

T
his morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no. But that was not the reason for the phone call: his mother was gone.

“Since when?”

“Since two weeks ago.”

“And you’re calling me now?”

My tone must have seemed hostile, even though I wasn’t angry or offended; there was just a touch of sarcasm. He tried to respond but he did so in an awkward, muddled way, half in dialect, half in Italian. He said he was sure that his mother was wandering around Naples as usual.

“Even at night?”

“You know how she is.”

“I do, but does two weeks of absence seem normal?”

“Yes. You haven’t seen her for a while, Elena, she’s gotten worse: she’s never sleepy, she comes in, goes out, does what she likes.”

Anyway, in the end he had started to get worried. He had asked everyone, made the rounds of the hospitals: he had even gone to the police. Nothing, his mother wasn’t anywhere. What a good son: a large man, forty years old, who hadn’t worked in his life, just a small-time crook and spendthrift. I could imagine how carefully he had done his searching. Not at all. He had no brain, and in his heart he had only himself.

“She’s not with you?” he asked suddenly.

His mother? Here in Turin? He knew the situation perfectly well, he was speaking only to speak. Yes, he liked to travel, he had come to my house at least a dozen times, without being invited. His mother, whom I would have welcomed with pleasure, had never left Naples in her life. I answered:

“No, she’s not with me.”

“You’re sure?”

“Rino, please, I told you she’s not here.”

“Then where has she gone?”

He began to cry and I let him act out his desperation, sobs that began fake and became real. When he stopped I said:

“Please, for once behave as she would like: don’t look for her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said. It’s pointless. Learn to stand on your own two feet and don’t call me again, either.”

I hung up.

2.

Rino’s mother is named Raffaella Cerullo, but everyone has always called her Lina. Not me, I’ve never used either her first name or her last. To me, for more than sixty years, she’s been Lila. If I were to call her Lina or Raffaella, suddenly, like that, she would think our friendship was over.

It’s been at least three decades since she told me that she wanted to disappear without leaving a trace, and I’m the only one who knows what she means. She never had in mind any sort of flight, a change of identity, the dream of making a new life somewhere else. And she never thought of suicide, repulsed by the idea that Rino would have anything to do with her body, and be forced to attend to the details. 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.

3.

Days passed. I looked at my e-mail, at my regular mail, but not with any hope. I often wrote to her, and she almost never responded: this was her habit. She preferred the telephone or long nights of talk when I went to Naples.

I opened my drawers, the metal boxes where I keep all kinds of things. Not much there. I’ve thrown away a lot of stuff, especially anything that had to do with her, and she knows it. I discovered that I have nothing of hers, not a picture, not a note, not a little gift. I was surprised myself. Is it possible that in all those years she left me nothing of herself, or, worse, that I didn’t want to keep anything of her? It is.

This time I telephoned Rino; I did it unwillingly. He didn’t answer on the house phone or on his cell phone. He called me in the evening, when it was convenient. He spoke in the tone of voice he uses to arouse pity.

“I saw that you called. Do you have any news?”

“No. Do you?”

“Nothing.”

He rambled incoherently. He wanted to go on TV, on the show that looks for missing persons, make an appeal, ask his mamma’s forgiveness for everything, beg her to return.

I listened patiently, then asked him: “Did you look in her closet?”

“What for?”

Naturally the most obvious thing would never occur to him.

“Go and look.”

He went, and he realized that there was nothing there, not one of his mother’s dresses, summer or winter, only old hangers. I sent him to search the whole house. Her shoes were gone. The few books: gone. All the photographs: gone. The movies: gone. Her computer had disappeared, including the old-fashioned diskettes and everything, everything to do with her experience as an electronics wizard who had begun to operate computers in the late sixties, in the days of punch cards. Rino was astonished. I said to him:

“Take as much time as you want, but then call and tell me if you’ve found even a single hairpin that belongs to her.”

He called the next day, greatly agitated.

“There’s nothing.”

“Nothing at all?”

“No. She cut herself out of all the photographs of the two of us, even those from when I was little.”

“You looked carefully?”

“Everywhere.”

“Even in the cellar?”

“I told you, everywhere. And the box with her papers is gone: I don’t know, old birth certificates, telephone bills, receipts. What does it mean? Did someone steal everything? What are they looking for? What do they want from my mother and me?”

I reassured him, I told him to calm down. It was unlikely that anyone wanted anything, especially from him.

“Can I come and stay with you for a while?”

“No.”

“Please, I can’t sleep.”

“That’s your problem, Rino, I don’t know what to do about it.”

I hung up and when he called back I didn’t answer. I sat down at my desk.

Lila is overdoing it as usual, I thought.

She was expanding the concept of trace out of all proportion. She wanted not only to disappear herself, now, at the age of sixty-six, but also to eliminate the entire life that she had left behind.

I was really angry.

We’ll see who wins this time, I said to myself. I turned on the computer and began to write—all the details of our story, everything that still remained in my memory.

CHILDHOOD
The Story of Don Achille
1.

My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille’s apartment.

I remember the violet light of the courtyard, the smells of a warm spring evening. The mothers were making dinner, it was time to go home, but we delayed, challenging each other, without ever saying a word, testing our courage. For some time, in school and outside of it, that was what we had been doing. Lila would thrust her hand and then her whole arm into the black mouth of a manhole, and I, in turn, immediately did the same, my heart pounding, hoping that the cockroaches wouldn’t run over my skin, that the rats wouldn’t bite me. Lila climbed up to Signora Spagnuolo’s ground-floor window, and, hanging from the iron bar that the clothesline was attached to, swung back and forth, then lowered herself down to the sidewalk, and I immediately did the same, although I was afraid of falling and hurting myself. Lila stuck into her skin the rusted safety pin that she had found on the street somewhere but kept in her pocket like the gift of a fairy godmother; I watched the metal point as it dug a whitish tunnel into her palm, and then, when she pulled it out and handed it to me, I did the same.

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