‘Arturo’s Island’ by Elsa Morante – A Masterpiece Only a Female Could Have Written


‘Arturo’s Island’ by Elsa Morante (1957) – 370 pages                    Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

Once in a great while I stumble upon a unique masterpiece, and this time it is ‘Arturo’s Island’. It is a beautifully-written moving one-of-a-kind novel. Although there are clues that ‘Arturo’s Island’ takes place after World War II, the story seems to occur outside of time in a place of legend, of myth.

The story begins with the stark simplicity of a fairy tale. It takes place on the remote island of Procida in the Bay of Naples near Italy. As you can see from the picture below, the actual Procida Island is built up with a multitude of structures. However in the novel you get the impression that it is nearly deserted. Arturo is born in the castle called Casa de Guagliano which for centuries had been a monastery but has recently been occupied by a woman-hating old man named the Amalfitano. Arturo’s mother died the night he was born. Arturo’s main caregiver as a baby is Silvestro, a male servant. There are no women living in the castle. Arturo grows up quite wild and free on the island, worshiping his father Wilhelm who goes off on his own on mysterious trips and comes back only occasionally. Arturo’s best friend is his dog Imacolatella.

When Arturo is fourteen, his father brings back a wife called Nunziata. Nunziata is only sixteen, and she acts more like a big sister to Arturo than a mother. Nunziata does her best to be a good mother, but Arturo resents her for intruding on his man’s world. He has had little or no interaction with females up until then.

It is in depicting this teenage girl Nunziata that the writer Elsa Morante really shines. Nunziata arrives like a breath of fresh air into Arturo’s all-male world, although he doesn’t appreciate her at the time. Nunziata is charming, beguiling, enchanting, appealing. ‘Arturo’s Island’ is special because it is written from a female’s point of view. Thus it captures the inherent qualities of a female and how a female views men.

Procida Island Marina

There are types of stories which women excel in because women are more observant of other people than men are. Whereas men are more action oriented and stay on the surface, women can go deeper and capture the nuances of human relationships.

But above all, I was impressed with the graceful elegance of Morante’s writing in ‘Arturo’s Island’. Elsa Morante has captured an isolated world on this remote island of Procida and she brings back meanings that apply to us all. I won’t forget this one.

‘Arturo’s Island’ is a must-read that only a female could have written


Grade:   A+



6 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve just tried looking for this at the library but they’re doing system maintenance over Easter. I’ll try again when they’ve sorted themselves out.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Praise indeed Tony – I’ll keep an eye out for this one!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi kaggsy,
      Yes and read the new translation by Ann Goldstein. She is the same who translates Elena Ferrante. It was Ferrante who said that Elsa Morante inspired her to become a fiction writer.

      Liked by 1 person


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