Jour­nal­ist de­fends ex­pose of au­thor Elena Fer­rante

Malta Independent - - FEATURE -

The Ital­ian jour­nal­ist who claims to have ex­posed the iden­tity of best-sell­ing au­thor Elena Fer­rante de­fended his in­ves­ti­ga­tion Fri­day as hav­ing de­bunked “lies” about Fer­rante’s back­ground and con­trib­uted to knowl­edge about her work.

Clau­dio Gatti, an in­ves­tiga­tive reporter with Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore busi­ness daily, said he didn’t solve any real mys­tery since Fer­rante’s true iden­tity was an open se­cret within Italy’s lit­er­ary cir­cles.

“All I did was ex­pose a lie,” he said: “I used the only thing that works: Fol­low the money.”

Gatti’s ex­pose ap­peared in Il Sole, the New York Re­view of Books and French and Ger­man pub­li­ca­tions Sun­day, spark­ing im­me­di­ate crit­i­cism from Fer­rante fans and fel­low writ­ers that he had in­vaded the au­thor’s pri­vacy. Nei­ther the au­thor nor the pub­lisher has con­firmed or de­nied the story.

Gatti con­cluded that Fer­rante is a Rome-based trans­la­tor of here — things like the po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion of Ger­many, the habit of many dif­fer­ent states, the habit of shar­ing power or not hav­ing one dom­i­nant cap­i­tal — these are very strange things to a Bri­tish or a French per­son,” said MacGre­gor, who has been tapped to lead a new cul­tural his­tory mu­seum in Berlin.

The ex­hi­bi­tion il­lus­trates that dif­fer­ence by show­ing coins from the many cur­ren­cies of Ger­man states around 1700, when Bri­tain had only one cur­rency. And it high­lights Ger­many’s his­tory of fluid bor­ders, with a sec­tion ti­tled “Ger­man no more” fea­tur­ing places such as Stras­bourg and Koenigs­berg Ger­man by trac­ing her salary with rev­enue from her pub­lisher, Edizione E/0, and real es­tate records. Gatti pieced to­gether the au­thor’s per­sonal his­tory through his­tor­i­cal archives, dis­cov­er­ing that her mother was a Holo­caust sur­vivor who fled Nazi Ger­many for Italy only to have to flee to Switzer­land when Fas­cist dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini im­posed racial laws on Jews. The mother mar­ried a Neapoli­tan mag­is­trate and set­tled in Rome, where the au­thor grew up.

Fer­rante’s quar­tet of nov­els about the life­long friend­ship of two girls who grew up poor in post-war Naples has won fans around the world. The books de­tail the com­plex­i­ties of fe­male friend­ship, the rise of fem­i­nism in Italy and the in­sid­i­ous nor­malcy of vi­o­lence and or­ga­nized crime in Italy’s poor south.

Speak­ing Fri­day at the For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion, Gatti said his in­ves­ti­ga­tion merely de­bunked the story that Fer­rante and her — now the Rus­sian city of Kalin­ingrad — that at var­i­ous points ceased to be part of the Ger­man-speak­ing world.

MacGre­gor ac­knowl­edged that Ger­man his­tory is, for most peo­ple, dom­i­nated by the events of the 20th cen­tury. But he said “what we wanted to do is to put that story into a longer per­spec­tive.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes works that il­lus­trate the com­plex­ity of Ger­mans’ re­la­tion­ship with their own his­tory — such as a cast of the 1927 sculp­ture “The Floater” by Ernst Bar­lach, who re­turned from World War I a paci­fist.

The an­gel-like fig­ure, sus­pended from the ceil­ing, il­lus­trates the grief of war. Much of Bar­lach’s work was con­fis­cated as “de­gen­er­ate art” un­der Nazi rule. An orig­i­nal cast was melted down in 1937, and copies were shown in both East and West Ger­many af­ter World War II.

The Bri­tish ex­hi­bi­tion “opens up for us the view into the past and gives us back our own his­tory, a jour­ney that is as­tound­ing, rich and com­plex and shown in a very English way — very light, very con­fi­dent,” said Thomas Oberen­der, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that over­sees the Martin-GropiusBau. pub­lish­ers had sown over the years, es­pe­cially in the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal book “Fran­tu­maglia: A Writer’s Jour­ney.” The nar­ra­tive is that Fer­rante grew up poor in Naples, one of four daugh­ters of a seam­stress, with no men­tion of the Holo­caust.

Fer­rante’s hero­ines Lila and Lenu are “strong, pow­er­ful women who sur­vived” — much as Fer­rante’s own mother was a sur­vivor of the 20th cen­tury’s worst hor­ror, Gatti said.

Gatti, who said he loved the nov­els when he read them all in a row two years ago, said he didn’t set out to at­tack Fer­rante but merely to un­der­stand who she was. He said he un­der­stood she was shy and be­lieved that art­work should speak for it­self.

“I’d like to know when, in the his­tory of art in the world, there has been a work of art that has been dam­aged, im­pov­er­ished or di­min­ished by knowl­edge of who the artist is,” Gatti said. “I think know­ing the artist en­hances the art.”

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