Required reading for Ferrante fans and scholars of Neapolitan literature.

NEAPOLITAN CHRONICLES

Stories and essays from post–WWII Naples describe the poor and the wealthy alike.

In 1953, Ortese, an Italian writer, published a book that so infuriated her hometown of Naples that she left and only returned once over the next five decades. She was apparently a great influence on Elena Ferrante, and in this capable new translation into English, it’s not hard to see why. In stories and essays, Ortese describes both the Neapolitan poor and the bourgeois in granular detail. In “A Pair of Eyeglasses,” she writes of Eugenia, a young girl whose family has scraped together the cost of a pair of eyeglasses, which Eugenia desperately needs. While Eugenia waits, ecstatic, for the glasses to arrive, the narrator describes the unappealing sights she will soon be able to see: “Her mother slept with her mouth open, her broken yellow teeth visible; her brother and sister…were always dirty and snot-nosed and covered with boils.” Ortese can be sentimental at times, even heavy-handed with her topics. Both those habits are in display in “Eyeglasses.” But in “Family Interior,” she is more restrained. In that story, Anastasia Finizio, the nearly-40-year-old “daughter of Angelina Finizio and the late Ernesto,” supports her entire family, including a mother, aunt, sister, two brothers, as well as her soon-to-be sister-in-law. Meanwhile, a man from Anastasia’s past turns up, and she begins to doubt her choices. Ortese’s restraint gives way in the two essays that end the book. In “The Silence of Reason,” she provides a vivid portrait of a group of young Neapolitan writers despite some rather bloated pontificating (“The miserable conditions of this land are due to the incompatibility of two equally great forces—nature and reason—which are irreconcilable, no matter what the optimists say”). But the true pleasure of this book is Ortese’s penchant for strange, extended, entirely counterintuitive similes, as in this one, which appears in the essay mentioned above: “He felt the same terror as one who has flung himself at a puppet swinging from a tree and suddenly discovers that it is not a puppet but the corpse of a hanged man, and he feels something around his own neck and realizes that he himself is hanging from the branch of a tree.”

Required reading for Ferrante fans and scholars of Neapolitan literature.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-939931-5-11

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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