Ben Smithgall

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Software and data at Spotify. Previously with U.S. Digital Service and Code for America.

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Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (The Neapolitan Novels, #3)

By Elena Ferrante (with Ann Goldstein)

Finished reading on October 7, 2018

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay continues from where The Story of a New Name left off, and the title provides a helpful overview into the main themes of the book. Elena and Lila’s paths have diverged in exactly the way the book lays out: Elena has left, Lila has stayed.

What does it mean, though, to leave, and to stay? Whether it is a friendship, the neighborhood, or Italy, leaving and staying are powerful things for both of the character. Even if we can figure out what it means to leave, can you return? At one point, Elena returns to Naples:

As soon as I got off the train, I moved cautiously in the places where I had grown up, always careful to speak in dialect, as if to indicate I am one of yours, don’t hurt me.

Fleeing her neighborhood and her city do not allow her to rise permanently above that station.

One of Ferrante’s great gifts is the ability to weave commentary about culture, class, and privilege into her stories without being blunt or absurd. Her characters confront and are fascists and communists. They navigate the world where you have to choose between agitating for rights and having your workplace attacked. They come into and out of fortune, and when they do so, you are forced as a reader to reexamine what you originally made of the their situations, and of your own.

★★★★★