Elena Ferrante’s case

Translations should not change the meaning of a book, but just give to more readers the chance to appreciate a story. Sometimes though, it happens that the translated version of a book has more success than the original one, how can that happen? Does that depend on the translator or on the cultural context into which the book is brought?

This happened with Elena Ferrante’s books, Elena Ferrante is of course famous also in Italy, but not as much as she is in the United States, where her books and her identity became an obsession for some readers. She started her career in 1992, her first novels didn’t have a lot of success, fame for her started with the Neapolitan Quartet that includes “My Brilliant friend”, “The story of a new name”, “Those who leave and those who stay” and “The story of the lost child”, that were translated into English by Ann Goldstein.

Part of the reason why she became so famous is the mystery that surrounds her identity, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and the readers do not know much about her real identity, all that is known comes from a book Fragments (la Frantumaglia), in which she gathered different interviews done throughout the years. While most of the readers do not really care about her identity, we have her books, why should we bother knowing her real name? Others became obsessed with the idea of finding out who she really is.

Lately, HBO in cooperation with RAI, the Italian broadcasting company, started planning a tv show based on the books, while in the United States there is the Ferrante fever, in Italy, despite her being a loved author, many think that she is overestimated. While some people claim that the translation is better than the original version, the reason of this huge fame in the United States might be the different cultural background. Firstly, there is the problem of the pseudonym, Americans are much more obsessed than Italians in finding out who she actually is. Then there is the actual story, that follows the lives and the friendship of two characters, Lila and Lena: Lena’s growth and how she is able to change from being poor to a famous writer, and Lila’s rebellion against what society wants from her, and what she actually wants. Maybe these topics are more familiar to American readers rather than Italians, and that’s why they appreciated it more.

We cannot know whether the translation is actually better than the original, but it is definitely interesting to see how much a different language and cultural background can shape and change things.


by Roberta Mingo


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