Ferrantomania, or Ferrante fever. After several years wondering what was this fuss about, I have at last caught the Ferrantomania bug.
I picked the first volume on a business trip to Brussels last November. Going back to the train station, I entered a bookshop to get something to read on my way back, and was delighted to discover a foreign language section.
L’amica geniale was there, and I bought it thinking that at least I should give it a try. But I did not read it until this January, when I decided to brush up my Italian in anticipation of two trips to Italy.
My Ferrante fever symptoms were the same as described by millions of readers worldwide: you buy this Ferrante book because you have heard that you should definitely read it. You read a couple of pages, and when you finally put the book down, it is after midnight, the book is over, and you desperately want to read the other three titles of the “Neapolitan Novels”.
When I started the first volume, I was not aware that language plays such a crucial role in the story. Much has been written about the use of Neapolitan dialect in the book, about sociolinguistic mechanisms, and about some enigmatic language-related metaphors, such as ‘il suo italiano che assomigliava un poco a quello dell’Iliade’ (‘Italian that slightly resembled that of the Iliad’).
Not only languages, but Classical languages specifically, play such a crucial role in the story. Thanks to private Latin lessons, Lena is able to continue her education; then, Latin and Greek (and their teachers) become her favourites, and eventually she goes on to study them at university.
A passage in the first volume struck me.
Elena is struggling with her Latin, and when she tells Lila (who has stopped the school because her parents could not afford it), Lila recommends the change of approach:
“Leggiti prima la frase in latino, poi va’ a vedere dov’è il verbo. A seconda della persona del verbo capisci qual è il soggetto. Una volta che hai il soggetto ti cerchi i complementi: il complemento oggetto se il verbo è transitivo, o se no altri complementi. Prova così.”
Provai. Tradurre all’improvviso mi sembrò facile.
In language learning, we have moments when suddenly something clicks and we finally get it. I have experienced it myself multiple times, and now I am really looking forward to reading about Lena’s linguistic (and other) discoveries.
Last week, I went to the local library knowing that it held the entire trilogy, and indeed, volumes 1,3, and 4 were there. The volume 2, exactly the one I was eager to read, was on loan. I made a recall and am impatiently waiting for the book to become available.