Book Review: Contrarian Mother’s Day Gift

As Mother’s Day approaches, we may expect the usual demand for flowers, candy, and treacly greeting cards.

While these gifts may be welcomed and/or expected, sons and daughters seeking a more meaningful present might also consider a literary masterpiece of self-discovery.

Originally conceived as a serial novel, Forbidden Notebook became a fictionalized diary published in the magazine La Settimana Incom Illustrata, between December 1950 and June 1951. These were bleak times for Italians, coping with post-WWII rationing and scarcity. Many mothers were mourning the loss of children victimized by a war and mass migration.

As my esteemed American Magazine colleague, Aldo Magagnino, noted in January post (Discovering English Literature) reading works in translation has a special appeal. This new English language iteration is by Ann Goldstein, best known for translating Elena Ferrante’s novels. Indeed it was Ferrante who introduced her to the best-selling author who now credits her as “an inspiration.

When we consider that Alba de Céspedes was an Italian-Cuban writer, it’s important to remember that Italo Calvino was born in Cuba, whose mother was an Italian botanist, married to an agronomist. (His recent collection of essays, The Written World and the Unwritten World, was also magically transformed into English by Ms. Goldstein).

Like the musings of Calvino, her prose burns with intensity.

When she first states, “I was wrong to buy this notebook, very wrong,” we are instantly taken into her confidence, while embarking on an enchanting personal (unsentimental) journey.