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The innocence of childhood friendships

I’m rereading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first book of the Neapolitan novels, and it has given me enormous pleasure once again. I read this in 2015: my mother and her best friend, Auntie Cecil, went to the Lucky Chinatown Mall in Binondo, Manila to buy things. Meanwhile I preferred to stay at a Mary Grace café and read on my iPod.

Here's a passage that appears on pages 106-107 that shows the unique dynamics between Elena and Lina:

We were twelve years old, but we walked along the hot streets of the neighborhood, amind the dust and flies and the occasional old trucks stirred up as they passed, like two old ladies taking the measure of lives of disappointment, clinging tightly to each other. No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another…There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable. The essential, however, was to know how to play, and she and I, only she and I, knew how to do it.

She asked me at one point, without an obvious connection but as if all our conversation could arrive only at that question:

“Are we still friends?”


“Then will you do me a favor?”

I would have done anything for her, on that morning of reconciliation: run away from home, leave the neighborhood, sleep in farmhouses, feed on roots, descend into the sewers through the grates, never turn back, not even if it was cold, not even if it rained. But what she asked seemed to me nothing and at that moment disappointed me. She wanted simply to meet once a day, in the public gardens, even just for an hour, before dinner and I was to bring the Latin books.

“I won’t bother you,” she said.


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