Elena Ferrante at The New Yorker:
I read “Madame Bovary” in the city of my birth, Naples. I read it laboriously, in the original, on the orders of a cold, brilliant teacher. My native language, Neapolitan, has layers of Greek, Latin, Arabic, German, Spanish, English, and French—a lot of French. Laisse-moi (“leave me alone”) in Neapolitan is làssame and sang (“blood”) is ’o sanghe. It’s not so surprising if the language of “Madame Bovary” seemed to me, at times, my own language, the language in which my mother appeared to be Emma and said laisse-moi. She also said le sparadrap (but she pronounced it ’o sparatràp), the adhesive plaster that had to be put on the cut I’d gotten—while I read and was Berthe—when I fell contre la patère de cuivre.
I understood then, for the first time, that geography, language, society, politics, the whole history of a people, were for me in the books that I loved and which I could enter as if I were writing them. France was near, Yonville not that far from Naples, the wound dripped blood, the sparatràp, stuck to my cheek, pulled the stretched skin to one side. “Madame Bovary” struck with swift punches, leaving bruises that haven’t faded. All my life since then, I’ve wondered whether my mother, at least once, with Emma’s words precisely—the same terrible words—thought, looking at me, as Emma does with Berthe: C’est une chose étrange comme cette enfant est laide! (“It’s strange how ugly this child is”).