Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes (Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein) - review by Magnus Rena

Magnus Rena

A Book of One’s Own

Forbidden Notebook


Pushkin Press 256pp £16.99

Born in Rome in 1911, Alba de Céspedes was married at fifteen, pregnant by sixteen, divorced at twenty and imprisoned by twenty-four. She was jailed twice for anti-Fascist activity, notably for broadcasting on Radio Partigiana, a resistance radio station. After the war she founded a literary journal and wrote a dozen novels, though her output has until recently been relatively neglected. 

Forbidden Notebook is her ninth novel, published in 1952 and newly translated by Ann Goldstein. It’s the fictionalised diary of Valeria, a woman living in Rome. She journals frantically, furtively, about her waning marriage, office job and two children. The plot is slight but the tone is vivid, dense with the language of someone talking to themselves, each anxiety unknotted and retied again: ‘Now the house seems like a cage, a prison. And yet I would like to be able to bar the doors … I would like to be forced to remain here day after day.’

Reading it can be uncomfortable. You sense that the tension between Valeria’s severe disposition (‘I was wrong to buy this notebook, very wrong’) and her deep yearning for happiness is as symptomatic of her own psychology as it is of life in postwar Italy, where tight-lipped wartime attitudes compete with

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RLF - March