That series, which follows the lives of two girls in a poor neighborhood in Naples from childhood to maturity, feels so powerfully authentic that many readers have assumed it reflected Ms. Ferrante’s own experience. But as it turns out, Ms. Raja’s history is very different from those of her heroines, Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo. Ms. Raja was born in Naples, but she moved to Rome at the age of 3 and grew up there. Her father was Neapolitan, but not poor — he was a magistrate. Her mother was a German Jew who fled to Italy in the 1930s to escape Nazism, and who lost most of her family to the Holocaust. None of these facts could be gleaned from the novels.To an American the difference between growing up in Rome and growing up in Naples may not seem like much, but it seems huge to Italians, like the difference between New York and New Orleans. And like so many other books about life among the poor, these turn out to have been written by a highly educated member of the upper middle class. Novel writing demands knowledge of places and their people, but also imagination, and a writer with sufficient talent can make the imagined seem real.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
The Imagination of Anita Raja
Millions of readers have loved Elena Ferrante's books, but until yesterday nobody knew who the author really was. Now that a journalist has outed Anita Raja as the author, we can see that the books are not autobiographical, but works of imagination: