In an interview with La Repubblica, Elena Ferrante has spoken out in favor of University of Bologna student and Egyptian activist Patrick Zaki, who was held in pretrial detention for nearly two years for “spreading false news” by writing an article about attacks on Christians in Egypt for Al Jazeera.
Zaki was released from jail following an Italian campaign to get him released, but still must stand trial in February. Ferrante called for Zaki to be given Italian citizenship, saying, “Giulio Regeni [a Cambridge PhD student jailed, tortured and murdered by Egyptian security forces in 2016 while researching independent trade unions in Egypt]’s atrocious and unjust end has made Zaki’s nearly two years in prison an unbearable wound for our consciences.”
A few minutes after his release, Zaki said that reading Ferrante’s novels kept him company while jailed: “In my cell I read the entire Elena Ferrante saga. It is beautiful. The best Italian literature I have ever read. It kept me company. Now I can’t wait to go to Naples.”
Responded Ferrante in La Repubblica, “I’m glad the story of my two girls helped him. But when I think of Zaki reading, I can’t tune out the background. I see the cell, with anger, not the books . . . A book can only multiply the need for survival. I therefore imagine that, in a state of detention, what consoles is not evasion, but that extra vital energy activated by literary fiction. Literature makes you stronger, more resistant. But however pleasant and intense it may be to be reading, the shame of prison—in Egypt, here, in every part of the world—remains.”