Reading Elena Ferrante in English? You’re Also Reading Ann Goldstein

The self-effacing translator Ann Goldstein worked with the “My Brilliant Friend” author again for her latest book, “The Lying Life of Adults.”

Millions of readers in thrall to Elena Ferrante, the secretive and wildly popular Italian novelist, must accept certain conditions.

They won’t be meeting her, virtually or in-person, at any sort of book signing or literary festival. Her stories will be rooted in Italy, and often focus on women trying to tame the chaos of their lives through writing.

And if they are reading Ferrante’s books in English, they are absorbing, whether they realize it or not, the nimble translation work of Ann Goldstein.

Goldstein has never met Ferrante and communicates with her through her publisher, but she has become one of the best known and most celebrated literary translators in the world as a result of her work on “My Brilliant Friend” and the rest of the author’s Neapolitan quartet. In many ways, their relationship is reciprocal: While Italian readers have known Ferrante for years, it was the translation of her books into English and other languages that catapulted her to international fame.

Their collaboration will come into view again next month when Ferrante’s latest novel, “The Lying Life of Adults,” is released across the world on Sept. 1. It was previously slated for June 9, but the publishers delayed it because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Netflix is planning to adapt the novel into an original series.) Elena Ferrante’s book, “The Lying Life of Adults,” comes out in English and other languages next month.

Like several of Ferrante’s other books, “The Lying Life of Adults” is set in Naples. It follows the unraveling of an adolescent, Giovanna, after she overhears her father say that she is becoming ugly like her fearsome aunt, Vittoria. Giovanna’s quest to meet her aunt leads her through a grittier part of the city, revealing unsavory family truths along the way.

“It was a surprising book,” Goldstein said in a Zoom interview from her downtown Manhattan home. “It was such a different view of Naples, from such a different point of view both in terms of class and social life, and of having a teenage narrator.” She added: “I just hope that I got it right.”

That humility was a hallmark of her approach as the head of The New Yorker’s copy desk. Goldstein worked at the magazine for over 40 years, steadfastly defending its diereses, “which” and “that” rules and other grammatical diktats that “writers get cranky about,” she said.

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