Joumana Khatib at the NYT:
Rome, 1950: The diary begins innocently enough, with the name of its owner, Valeria Cossati, written in a neat script.
Valeria is buying cigarettes for her husband when she is entranced by the stacks of gleaming black notebooks at the tobacco shop. She’s not permitted to buy one there on Sundays, she’s told, but the tobacconist gives her one anyway, which she stashes under her coat. She doesn’t yet know there’s a devil hiding in its pages.
This deception begins the Cuban-Italian writer Alba de Céspedes’s novel FORBIDDEN NOTEBOOK (Astra House, 259 pp., $26), first published in 1952. Valeria is married with two adult children; the family is under financial strain, compelling her to work in an office and manage her household without the help of a maid. She has coped with these pressures handsomely, she believes. She is a “transparent” woman, simple, “a person who had no surprises either for myself or for others.”