May 7, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Kitaab Review: Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

2 min read

by Chandra Ganguly

51Q9KM+iF3L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I read Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment during my first visit to New York, which coincided with the massacre of twenty people in a café in Bangladesh. In the big city, I found myself adrift between the busyness of the city, the meaningless and brutality of the lives lost in Bangladesh and the surreal state of abandonment of Olga in this book. Nothing meant anything, I told myself, and I struggled to make sense in the three realms I crossed and inhabited — reading the book on the subway, catching snippets of news on the papers and television, and navigating the busy roads and people of this city. For me, Mario, the protagonist’s husband, began to represent the fallacies and illusions we hold about love and life that for Olga become nothing but figments of her imagination and her longings for meaning and safety. In this city, like her, I too grappled with the underlying sense of the danger in everything, “…there began to grow inside me a permanent sense of danger.” (p.27)

In the book, Mario abandons his wife and family for a younger woman. His wife in turn loses her hold on reality and on the meaning of herself and her life. But then is it not true for all of us, no matter where we are in our lives, that our lives are suffused by the meanings we give to it, to our relationships and our experiences and choices? Ferrante pushed me in this book — or perhaps was it only the timing of my reading — into questioning what I was seeing and thinking in New York, “Everything was so random. As a girl, I had fallen in love with Mario, but I could have fallen in love with anyone: a body to which we end up attributing who knows what meanings.” (p.74) Random — that is the word I kept thinking about when I read about the victims of the Bangladesh attacks. Friends who went out for dinner, business partners, a birthday party, a place to have a drink, a pregnant woman’s farewell — is life as random as the decisions we make and are our ends just as randomly decided and finalized for us? Again and again, in Ferrante’s descriptions of Mario and Olga’s relationship with him and her life after he leaves her, I saw my search for a meaning to the human state. “Nothing was solid, everything was slipping away . . . I didn’t know how to find answers to the question marks, every possible answer seemed absurd, I was lost in the where am I, in the what am I doing. I was mute beside the why.” (p.107)

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