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September 30, 2014

“The Days of Abandonment”

by Anne Paddock

Already at eighteen, I had considered myself a talented young woman, with high hopes. At twenty, I was working. At twenty-two I had Mario, and we had left Italy, living first in Canada, then in Spain and Greece. At twenty-eight, I had had Gianni, and during the months of my pregnancy I had written a long story set in Naples, and, the following year, had published it easily. At thirty-one I gave birth to Ilaria.  Now at thirty-eight I was reduced to nothing.

The Days of Abandonment is an Italian novel narrated by Olga, a married mother of two young children whose husband, Mario has recently abandoned her. Living in an apartment in Turin – “a great fortress with iron walls” – with the children, Olga is lost and enraged moving between rational thought and insanity as she reflects on who she is, what she gave up, and what will become of her life without Mario. Obsessed with her husband and the woman he left her for, Olga struggles to come to terms with the dissolution of her marriage while caring for their children and his dog all the while telling herself “organize your defenses, preserve your wholeness, don’t let yourself break like an ornament, you’re not a knickknack, no woman is a knickknack.” Easy to recite, harder to live by.

days of abandonment biggerWritten by Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer – although most people familiar with Italian literature don’t believe Elena Ferrante is in fact the author’s real name because Ferrante is the rare species in the book kingdom who refuses to promote her books, attend book discussions or conventions, give interviews (except in the written format), and most telling of all, will not accept any prizes for her literary works – The Days of Abandonment is compelling for what it is and what it may be: the story of a scorned woman based on the life experiences of an author who refuses to reveal herself. The author clearly believes the book should stand on its own and that by publishing it, she has fulfilled her responsibility to readers. Her ego has been silenced. Her life is not for sale but her stories are.

To describe The Days of Abandonment as intense, personal, and revealing is almost an understatement because nothing is held back or sugar-coated in this novel that primarily takes place between the Spring and Fall of a single year. Ferrante writes of the love a mother has for her children but she also writes about what most mothers won’t admit: the resentment, hatred, and the desire to abandon the children she blames for ruining her body, her mind, her marriage and her life. Olga’s time is not her own and while Mario is also the father of two children, “his body does not wear the scars, his career has flourished, and other women still desire him.”

Olga’s sense of self was in the family. She gave it all away and when it was gone, so was the woman she thought she was. Haunted by the memory of a woman she knew as a child – a neighbor, a married woman with children whose husband left her and who became known as the “poverella” (the poor one) – Olga realizes she is now the poverella, the abandoned wife and mother she never thought she’d be.

Published in 2002 as l giorni dell’abbandono, the book was translated into English by Ann Goldstein, an editor at The New Yorker, in 2005. Now in its eighth printing, The Days of Abandonment is one of seven books written by the author that have been translated into English. Along with Days of Abandonment, Ferrante has published Troubling Love (1992), Fragments (2003), The Lost Daughter (2006), and the trilogy referred to as the Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012), and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013), which is the story of two childhood friends over six decades.

I am the queen of spades, I am the wasp that stings, I am the dark serpent. I am the invulnerable animal who passes through fire and is not burned.

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