A review of the Italian novel “The Lost Daughter” by Elena Ferrante

Although I had previously read four novels by Ferrante (the Neapolitan Quartet), I did not read this earlier and shorter work until after I saw the film version.

Told in the first person, this is the story of Leda, an Italian teacher of English literature who is a middle-aged divorcée and mother of two grown daughters. When she takes a seaside holiday in southern Italy, she meets young mother Nina and her daughter Elena and her interactions with them trigger painful recollections of her own experience of womanhood and motherhood.

The novel explores an immensely sensitive subject: the rarely acknowledged truth that many women find parenthood hard, sometimes so crushingly hard that they have to escape from it in order to find their own identity and fulfil their own aspirations. The consequences of such maternal ambivalence casts a shadow that lasts a lifetime.

But, in Leda’s words: “Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die”.


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