Kirkus Reviews QR Code
FORBIDDEN NOTEBOOK by Alba de Céspedes Kirkus Star


by Alba de Céspedes ; translated by Ann Goldstein

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-662-60139-2
Publisher: Astra House

A new translation of a 1952 novel by Italian Cuban author de Céspedes traces the radical impact that writing down her thoughts has on the life of a woman in her 40s.

When Valeria Cossati isn't at work, she dedicates all her time to her family, which includes a slightly older husband and two children who are studying law at a university in Rome, where they all live in a cramped apartment. One Sunday morning in November, when Valeria goes out to buy cigarettes to surprise her husband, who's sleeping in, she's drawn to a display of notebooks in the window of the tobacco shop. She can't resist picking up one of the “black, shiny, thick” notebooks. The owner sternly informs her he is forbidden to sell anything but tobacco on Sundays—and then hands her a notebook to slip inside her coat. Once home, she wildly looks for a place to hide it, afraid that her family will laugh at her for keeping a diary when she has such a humdrum life. Over the next six months, as she restlessly moves the notebook from one hiding place to another, she begins to stay up late and neglect her household duties to write down her previously repressed thoughts about her stale marriage, her fraught relationship with her daughter, her worries about her unmotivated son, and her blossoming romantic feelings for her boss. “For the first time in twenty-three years of marriage, I'm doing something for myself,” she writes. De Céspedes deftly charts the widening gap between Valeria's increasingly desperate inner life and the roles she feels forced to play in a feminist novel that consistently calls into question the ways its narrator makes sense of her claustrophobic domestic world.

A wrenching, sardonic depiction of a woman caught in a social trap.