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Mysterious Writer Elena Ferrante's True Identity Might Have Been Blown

The Italian novelist is known for two things—writing hugely successful thrillers, and working under a pseudonym.

by Katherine Gillespie
03 October 2016, 12:00am


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Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is known for two things—writing universally beloved thrillers, and working under a mysterious pseudonym. Apparently not content to let an elderly Italian woman live quietly and anonymously with her millions of dollars, the New York Review of Books has launched an intensive investigation into her closely-guarded identity. They claim they've figured out who she is, and they've made a pretty convincing case.

Mystery-solving journalist Claudio Gatti says the woman behind Ferrante is Anita Raja, who has worked as a translator for the same publishing house that publishes Ferrante for many years. The evidence? Financial records, which show Raja's wealth substantially increased around the same time Ferrante's Neopolitan novels became popular bestsellers. When her book Days of Abandonment was turned into a successful Italian film, she began to purchase luxury properties around Italy.

As Gatti points out, translators are rarely able to afford holiday houses in Tuscany. There are other pieces of the puzzle that come together too—names of characters correspond to Raja's friends and family members, and her daughter went to the same university as one of the protagonists in My Brilliant Friend. Raja is also known for translating the work of German novelists, and literary critics have long compared Ferrante's work to that of the female East German writers that she favours.

The journalist also theorises that Raja might have collaborated with her husband Domenico Starnone—a published writer under his own name—which is a little cheeky given Ferrante's work is known for championing the female voice. People have been whispering that Ferrante is a dude for years, but Gatti isn't particularly convincing on this point, saying only that his findings leave open the "possibility of some kind of unofficial collaboration" with Starnone.

It's now likely that Raja, who has so far managed to avoid the pitfalls of international fame, will be subject to intensive media scrutiny in Italy and abroad—even though she's written frequently about the value of anonymity to creativity, even going so far as to say that she would stop writing novels if unmasked.

Gatti justifies his invasive investigation into a unacquainted woman's life by saying that Ferrante and her publisher have deliberately capitalised on the mystery surrounding the author's identity in order to sell novels.

"Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity," he writes.

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