Elena Ferrante, widely beloved Italian author of the bestselling Neapolitan series of novels, has been in the news ever since she shot to fame in 2012, with the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the four-part series in English translation.
Apart from the immense critical success for her work, the media have been fascinated with her real identity. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and the person, who is almost certainly a woman, hiding behind it, has steadfastly refused to emerge in the public eye.
In an age, when relentless self-promotion is the norm, if not a necessity, with writers pushing their books, her stand came across as exceptional. Her reason for this disguise, she said, was inspired by the need to protect her private life and, more importantly, to guard her writing time against the onslaught of media attention that would inevitably fall on her were she to tell the world who she is.
In an interview with her publishers in The Paris Review, she added, "The demand for self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art, whatever that art may be, and it has become universal."
Of course, by choosing self-effacement over celebrity, she exposed herself to an even bigger threat: the eye of the paparazzi. Since her refusal to come out in public and staggering success, speculations have been rife about her true identity. Earlier this year, based on historical evidence and her writing style, it was surmised that Elena Ferrante was really an academic called Marcella Marmo. But the suggestion was dismissed as rapidly as it was made.
The guessing game now seems to have drawn to a close finish with an Italian journalist, Claudio Gatti, offering his theory in the New York Review of Books.
Elena Ferrante, Gatti argues, is none other than Anita Raja, a translator who works with her publisher, Sandro Ferri, who runs Edizione e/o in Rome, which brings out her books. Gatti claims there has been a sudden spike of payments made to Raja since the Neapolitan series became a bestseller. Based on this fact, he arrives at the conclusion that Raja and Ferrante are one and the same person — a claim that is yet to be confirmed.
Ferrante's publisher, however, has made his view of the matter clear to the Guardian. "We just think that this kind of journalism is disgusting," said Ferri, who is one of the few people to know who Ferrante is. "Searching in the wallet of a writer who has just decided not to be 'public'."
Gatti has been at the receiving end of a barrage of hatred on social media, included being called "an idiotic bin rummager" by a British columnist. However, not only has he stood by his actions, Gatti has also claimed to have done a public service by exposing the "lies" of the famous author to the world at large.
Raja, the prime suspect in the mysterious case of Elena Ferrante, is of Polish-German parentage and a Rome-based translator of German books. Her German-born mother fled the Holocaust and later married a Neapolitan magistrate. Married to the Neapolitan writer, Domenico Starnone, Raja is known to have had a relationship with Ferrante's publishing house for many years as a translator of German literature.
For a brief period, she was the coordinator of Collana degli Azzurri, an imprint of Italian writers at Edizione e/o that, according to a spokesperson for the publisher, released a total of "three or four books, including Ferrante's first novel" in the 1990s. The spokesperson, quoted by Gatti in his report, allegedly described Raja's work "as that of a simple freelance translator" and clarified that she was "absolutely not" an employee.
Gatti is not the first person to link Raja with Ferrante though. In early 2015, the Italian gossip blog DagoSpia had already claimed that "Even the stones know that Elena Ferrante is Anita Raja."
The truth of the matter will come out by and by hopefully. But one thing is fairly certain. In spite of her Indian-sounding name, Raja is not of Indian origin. Or at least that's as much as we know for now.
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