The Story of a New Name
This is a sequel to My Brilliant Friend, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. The first book followed friends Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo as schoolchildren in postwar Naples. This volume begins in the early 1960s with Lila’s marriage at 16 to Stefano, a well-off grocer, while Elena’s chosen path out of poverty is to continue her studies. Lila’s union starts badly, after she discovers that her husband broke a pledge he made to her, and learns of his business ties to a criminal family. Lila turns bitter, but now and then she will perform an act of kindness, such as purchasing school books Elena can’t afford.
During a summer idyll at the seaside, Lila becomes attracted to Nino, the girls’ schoolmate, whom Elena admires from afar. Elena watches a bit jealously as Lila and Nino develop a romance, yet Lila manages to talk Elena into helping her meet Nino secretly. After Elena goes off to college in Pisa, Lila becomes pregnant with Nino’s child.
This novel depicts a complicated friendship between two women amid the ins and outs of everyday life. They seek different and difficult paths to happiness. Elena, the more sympathetic character, begins to suspect that education will not entirely shake off her poverty-laden roots. Lila is in turn an annoying and endearing friend. Perhaps I would have liked Lila better if I had had background information about the women’s childhood from reading the first volume. The numerous people and relationships get confusing, so consulting the author’s character list in the front of the book is a must. I did not enjoy this epic story of a Neapolitan friendship between two complex women as much as other reviewers have, but readers who begin with the first book in the series may come away with a different opinion.