Rachel Donadio is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and former Rome Bureau Chief and European Cultural Correspondent for The New York Times. (July 2020)


France: After Lockdown, the Street

A man holding a painting of Didier Raoult, the French medical researcher promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, during a show of support for health care workers in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Mandé, May 2020
When the lockdown—le confinement—finally began to lift on May 11, giving way to a tenuous period of reopening—le déconfinement—Paris looked the same. And yet it wasn’t. Over the course of that long, strange April—during which France recorded nearly 20,000 Covid-19 deaths—something had shifted. The coronavirus has caused a reckoning here, one of the most profound the country has undergone since World War II. It was already in the throes of upheaval when the virus hit, after the Yellow Vest street protests and strikes against Macron’s efforts to cut back state services and restructure pensions. The situation in France today is born of a combustive collision between theory and practice, ideal and real, that stems largely from the country’s persistent sense of itself as an exemplary nation, which may or may not withstand the test of reality.

Italy’s Great, Mysterious Storyteller

Naples, 1964; photograph by Bruno Barbey

My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Story of a New Name

by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Elena Ferrante’s Naples books are essentially about knowledge—its possibilities and its limits. Intellectual knowledge, sexual knowledge, political knowledge. What kind of knowledge does it take to get by in this world? How do we attain that knowledge? How does our knowledge change us and wound us and empower us, often at the same time? What things do we want to know and what would we prefer to leave unknown? What can we control? Who has power over our lives?