JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

February 2, 2023

My blog post last week was about my current literary adventure. This week’s post will confirm I’ve completed the final book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. And wow. What a powerful story about friendship, family, domestication, and pain.

I learned of the idea of our domestication in the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In essence, as we grow up, we are domesticated by the world around us. The neighborhood we live in and the stories we hear about ourselves as children have a profound effect on who we become in adulthood. In the Neapolitan Novels, the protagonist – Elena – is from a small village in Italy near Naples. The friendship of Elena and Lila occurs in a time at which violence was commonplace. Female children could be married. And schooling was a privilege, not a right.

Elena grows throughout the four-book journey. Her life – as most do – goes through joyful moments as well as painful moments. Her friendship to Lila strengthens at times and disappears at others. And she realizes through the gift of time and reflection that answers to questions once undeniable became less clear. As Ferrante writes in the final book, The Story of the Lost Child, “Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity.”

The story has helped me think quite critically about my domestication and my heritage. And it’s made me delve into the feelings I’ve had in my long-term friendships. It’s interesting to listen in on how Elena’s mind works. At times she frantically tries to process the events around her when there is no way to know the truth.

The friendship between Elena and Lila can be pretty grim at times. And Elena tends to create all kinds of narratives in her head for her friend’s behaviors. There were many times through the story at which I’d want to shout, “If you want to know, just ask her!”

The story made me realize even a one-generation separation can have a dramatic impact on our domestication. History gets farther away and the stories that once captivated our minds won’t hold the same weight.

I highly recommend reading this series, especially if you’re interested in Italian heritage.

What shall I read next?