My Brilliant Friend

HBO's adaptation of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend is bellissimo!

A Love Story With Books

I married my husband, Ole, because he's fun, hilarious, adorable, cerebral...and a reader! When I first saw his bookshelves, I was like, "Ooh la la!" And, "Wow, he really likes Jonathan Franzen." One of our first disagreements was over a book. He attends a monthly book club and his mom gives him books for birthdays and Christmas. And most romantically: we bonded over Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend book series.

Ferrante's series, written in Italian, follows the lives of two friends from girlhood to adulthood. As children, they're at the top of their class; one can say Lila is even a bit more intellectually inclined. Elena, however, is also very smart and is inspired by Lila's talent. The girls form a friendship that is both supportive and competitive. However, while Elena's family support her pursuit of education, Lila's family steers her in the direction of housework and marriage. Despite their different paths, the women maintain a binding friendship that is full of drama, tenderness, and mystery.

Ferrante's novels are beautiful portraits of life in Naples, Italy during the 1950s onward. It's all about the grit and melodrama of a poor neighborhood, and the too-brief dreamy escapes to the coast. It's about feminism in a time of stereotypical societal gender roles. It's about education, in a time when learning Latin and Greek was an everyday part of school.

Before we were married, Ole and I began reading the series together, starting with book one, My Brilliant Friend. He read the German translation; I read the English translation. Maybe I should explain: we live on different continents. Him, in Berlin, Germany; me, in the Bay Area. We see each other in person once every few months, so a lot of our relationship happens via email, texting, and Skype. It may sound a bit atypical, but this distance allows us a level of communication that delves pretty deep. And we have to find creative ways to stay connected. Perhaps, subconsciously, our private Ferrante "book club" was just another way to get to know each other and grow closer.

Translating to the Screen

When HBO began the hunt for actors for its My Brilliant Friend television adaptation, they searched the streets of Naples, opens a new window. I loved the idea of an adaptation and followed the news excitedly. When the series began filming and the first trailer, opens a new window was released in August 2018, I shared the link with Ole. But he was not as intrigued. "What's with the overly dramatic soundtrack?" he asked.

However, I was all in. I subscribed to HBO Now, and eagerly devoured the first episode. Here we meet Elena and Lila as children in primary school. The actors are fantastic, looking the part (as dreamed up in my head, at least) and exquisitely carrying out the lines and meaningful facial expressions. The set design is awesome, with its picture window storefronts, little Italian classic cars, and dusty streets. In the third episode, the casting changes so different actors can portray the teenage years. And just like in the books, the characters seem so much older than their actual years: girls in the '50s just had to deal with so many more grown-up situations much earlier. So many teenage marriage proposals!

But despite my excitement, I couldn't seem to finish the series. I was sidetracked with other HBO productions, like Game of Thrones and Insecure. I liked My Brilliant Friend...I just couldn't seem to finish it.

Then, Ole and I got married. In the days after our celebration, we dreamed about our eventual Naples honeymoon--a destination chosen precisely because it would be us extending our Ferrante devotion. But instead of jetting off to Italy, we did something we'd never really had the geographical capacity to do: we stayed in my San Francisco apartment and binge-watched Season 1 of My Brilliant Friend. It felt extremely exotic to us as an international couple. Lying in bed, planning our daily schedule around time to watch tv, having real-time discussions about the ways the series differed from the books, side-by-side research for facts about the series and actors on our mobile phones.... It was sehr Gemütlich! Very cozy. In the end, Ole admitted the series was cool, and I realized I just needed him by my side to fully enjoy yet another part of this particular experience.

The Story Continues

Season 2 is definitely happening, with reports indicating it will come out in Fall 2019, opens a new window.

And...I'll be moving to Berlin this summer! There, Ole and I will continue the Ferrante experience while adding many more chapters to our own journey.

Welcome to the Ferrante Experience

Enjoy the newly released DVD of Season 1, and enjoy the novels! The novels are also available in eBook and eAudiobook formats on Overdrive and Hoopla!

My brilliant friend The complete first season (DVD)
DVD - 2019 |

My Brilliant Friend (Book)

Story of A New Name (Book)

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Book)

The Story of the Lost Child (Book)

Have you read or seen My Brilliant Friend? What do you think of HBO's adaptation? Leave your comments below!