Novelist Elena Ferrante is daughter of Holocaust survivor, report says

Ferrante and her publisher have guarded her privacy fiercely; The only fact about herself she has ever revealed is that she comes from Naples.

October 5, 2016 03:28
2 minute read.
Elena Ferrante

Cover of the book 'My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An Italian journalist followed the money, and he claims it led him to the identity of the acclaimed novelist who writes under the pen name Elena Ferrante.

Ferrante, whose Neapolitan novels — My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child — are widely acclaimed, was identified on Sunday by Claudio Gatti in The New York Review of Books and in publications in German, French and Italian, as Anita Raja, a Romebased translator whose German-born mother was a Holocaust survivor.

Ferrante and her publisher have guarded her privacy fiercely. She has never promoted her books and has given rare interviews only via email. The only fact about herself she has ever revealed is that she comes from Naples. She said in an interview that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”

Gatti said he came to this conclusion based mainly on the fact that Raja, who worked as a freelance translator from German to Italian for the Edizione E/O publishing company, the same house that publishes Ferrante’s novels, received payments that went up enormously after the Neapolitan novels were translated into English and other languages.

Raja has not commented on the claims.

Her publisher has not denied them, but criticized Gatti for writing the article.

The books, which were published between 2011-2015, have sold over two million copies around the world and have been widely praised, with The New York Times Book Review calling her “one of the great novelists of our time.”

The books tell the story of two Neapolitan girls from an impoverished neighborhood whose intense friendship and turbulent lives span decades and reflect changes in women’s lives in Italy and around the world. Most readers and reviewers guessed that they were strongly autobiographical, but if Raja is the author, that is not the case. The narrator of the novels comes from an uneducated family, while Raja’s mother was a teacher and her father was a magistrate.

In a detailed sidebar, Gatti also told the story of Raja’s mother’s family, many of whom died in the Holocaust.

Raja is married to the Neapolitan novelist, Domenico Starnone. There has been speculation in the past that both Raja and Starnone had written the novels.

Gatti’s article has drawn a great deal of criticism throughout the press, with most publications saying that Ferrante should have been allowed to preserve her anonymity.

Adam Kirsch, writing in The New York Times, said that “the exposure of Ms. Ferrante feels like an attack on the idea of literature.”

Ferrante has said that if her identity were to be exposed, she would stop writing, so the disclosure could prove disappointing for her many admirers.

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