THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Ms. Hen read the first two books in the Neapolitan novels previously this year. She loved them and she devoured them, but she is trying to read them slowly so she won’t be too overwhelmed with emotion. She thought she would read the third novel sooner after she read the second one, but she wanted to savor it and look forward to it.
THE STORY OF A NEW NAME begins where the previous novel leaves off, with Elena Greco and the release of the novel she wrote. She lives at home with her family after she has graduated from college, and is waiting to get married. She is still unsure of her intellect, and she feels that her meekness eventually surfaces with everything she does.
She never expected to publish the novel. Her future mother-in-law to be decided that it was good enough to be published and Elena thinks that her future mother-in-law wanted her son’s wife to have some status, since she came from such a poor neighborhood, and she had nothing else to recommend her to their world.
Elena is thrust into a brief experience with fame with the publication of her novel. She still tries to help her friend from childhood Lila, who Elena thinks is more intelligent and talented than she is, even though Lila never continued her education. Lila is the brilliant one, who has always shone in spite of everything that has happened to her.
There are more politics in this novel than the previous novels. Ms. Hen thinks this is possible because the characters are older, and they have more interest in the world around them. Society is changing, and demonstrations are happening, and Elena gets involved with Lila fighting the corruption at the sausage factory where Lila is employed. The workers want to start a communist revolution, but they have to go against the fascists to win. Nobody ends up winning, and some people get hurt.
This novel, like the other two novels is full of raw emotion and brimming with the power of friendship. Loving her friends, and hating her friends, wanting them to succeed, and wanting them to fail, is the rollercoaster of emotion that Elena Greco lives every day. Wanting to be happy, and wanting the best out of life, even when stuck in an unhappy marriage with two small children, Elena perseveres and tries to be happy.
Ms. Hen had a conversation with someone whom she respects as a person and a writer about these novels. This person had read all four books, but she couldn’t understand why the characters had strong feelings about one person at one time, then completely different feelings about that person another time. Ms. Hen told the woman she didn’t want to sound racist but it was because the people are Italian, but she meditated on this idea, and then decided that she understood why Elena changes her mind often about people she loved.
She changes her mind because she is a passionate person, due to bouts of irrationality. Some people are completely rational, and could never understand why someone could alter their feelings so quickly. Ms. Hen is also an unstable character that changes her mind a lot of the time about the people in her life. Ms. Hen doesn’t understand a lot of people, but she deals with them because she has to do it to survive. Elena lives her life and takes care of the things that she must do, but she loves passionately and irrationally. Not all love is rational. Ms. Hen didn’t understand why Elena keeps her obsession with Nino when she discovers what a cad he is, but Elena is unstable in her heart. Elena loves Lila, even though she is jealous of her, and cannot stop being jealous of her, even though Lila has had a lot of bad luck, Elena still feels that her own intellect will never match Lila’s.
There is one mention of a rooster in this novel, “Lila gazed at the water pitcher in the middle of the table with its comical rooster head: Gennaro liked it.” This took place when Lila and Gennaro were living with Enzo in the tiny apartment while she worked at the sausage factory and she and Enzo studied computer programming at night. They didn’t have a lot of money to spare, and the pitcher with the rooster head could have been a luxury.
Ms. Hen loved this novel. Reading it is like watching a friend make mistakes and you want to tell her to stop doing what she’s doing, but she can’t help it because it’s what she needs to do. Elena can’t help but continue her life, and the spiral goes as it goes in everyone’s life. Ms. Hen gives this novel five feathers up.