cover image Her Side of the Story

Her Side of the Story

Alba de Céspedes, trans. from the Italian by Jill Foulston. Astra House, $29 (512p) ISBN 978-1-66260-143-9

In this devastating chronicle of a woman’s life, first published in Italy in 1949 and previously appearing in an abridged English version, de Céspedes (1911–1997; Forbidden Notebook) frames her heroine’s most intimate struggles within the context of women’s discounted status in mid-20th-century Rome. Alessandra, a gifted student, grows up in modest circumstances. Her bureaucrat father is cold and distant. Her beloved mother, Eleanora, is a beautiful pianist who supplements the family income by giving lessons. Alessandra lives for a time with her father’s family in the countryside but eventually returns to care for her ailing father after refusing a marriage proposal. While continuing her studies she meets Francesco, a professor with whom she falls profoundly in love. But WWII wreaks havoc in Rome, with bombings by the Allies followed by Nazi occupation. Francesco is deeply involved in the anti-fascist movement, and after they marry, Alessandra, sensing Francesco doesn’t love her as much as the cause, risks her life to gain his affection. Reflecting on her restlessness and desperation, she remembers something her mother had told her: “I couldn’t get used to a life that was spiritually mediocre or a mediocre love. What good is mediocre love? The street is full of it.” Her descent into despair culminates in an irreversible act of violence. The shocking denouement only adds to the impact of Alessandra’s indelible voice, which made a formative impact on Elena Ferrante, whose afterword cites the novel as one of her “books of encouragement.” De Céspedes’s melancholy testament to a hidden life feels timeless and vital. (Nov.)