6. The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante
The author is one of Italy's most acclaimed contemporary writers, yet no one seems to know who she is. Ferrante is said to have been born in Naples, but beyond that fact (if it is even true), she—or he—has remained private. The Days of Abandonment, her exquisite second novel, became a bestseller when it was published in Italy in 2002; it has since been translated into more than a dozen languages. Ferrante explores themes prevalent in her other books, including grief, desire, and guilt—all of which are treated with harrowing candor. If her material is remotely autobiographical, it might explain her use of a pseudonym. (Her debut novel was called L'amore molesto, or Nasty Love.) This story charts the descent of a middle-aged woman, Olga, following the abrupt departure of her husband, Mario: "One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me." She attempts to avoid a breakdown: "Don't give in, I said to myself, don't crash headlong." That Olga is the mother of Mario's two children seems to indicate that her wound will be made permanent: "How much of him would I be forced to love forever, without even realizing it, simply by virtue of the fact that I loved them?" she says. "What a complex foamy mixture a couple is. Even if the relationship shatters and ends, it continues to act in secret pathways, it doesn't die, it doesn't want to die." Beautifully translated into English by Ann Goldstein, The Days of Abandonment is a stunning, almost unbearable account of anguish, yet it offers redemption, too. Olga's recovery is hopeful without being sentimental: "Existence is this, I thought, a start of joy, a stab of pain, an intense pleasure, veins that pulse under the skin, there is no other truth to tell."