Lies and Sorcery
(2023, New York Review Books)
A new translation by
Jenny McPhee, author and translator, NYU
of the 1948 novel Menzogne e sortilegio by
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Elsa Morante is one of the titans of twentieth-century literature—Natalia Ginzburg said she was the writer of her own generation that she most admired—and yet her work remains little known in the United States. Written during World War II, Morante’s celebrated first novel, Lies and Sorcery, is in the grand tradition of Stendhal, Tolstoy, and Proust, spanning the lives of three generations of wildly eccentric women.
The story is set in Sicily and told by Elisa, orphaned young and raised by a “fallen woman.” For years Elisa has lived in an imaginary world of her own; now, however, her guardian has died, and the young woman feels that she must abandon her fantasy life to confront the truth of her family’s tortured and dramatic history. Elisa is a seductive, if less than reliable, spinner of stories, and the reader is drawn into a tale of secrets, intrigue, and treachery, which, as it proceeds, is increasingly revealed to be an exploration of a legacy of political and social injustice. Throughout, Morante’s elegant writing—and her drive to get at the heart of her characters’ complex relationships and all-too self-destructive behavior—holds us spellbound.