Her Side of the Story: From the author of FORBIDDEN NOTEBOOK
by Alba de Céspedes

Published: 2023-11-14T00:0
Hardcover : 512 pages
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"De Cespedes' work has lost none of its subversive force”—The New York Times Book Review

"De Céspedes’s melancholy testament to a hidden life feels timeless and vital."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

From the author of Forbidden Notebook, Alba de Céspedes, a richly ...

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"De Cespedes' work has lost none of its subversive force”—The New York Times Book Review

"De Céspedes’s melancholy testament to a hidden life feels timeless and vital."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

From the author of Forbidden Notebook, Alba de Céspedes, a richly told novel she called “the story of a great love and of a crime.”

As she looks back on her life, Alessandra Corteggiani recalls her youth during the rise of fascism in Italy, the resistance, and the fall of Mussolini, the lives of the women in her family and her working-class neighborhood, rigorously committed to telling “her side of the story.”

Alessandra witnesses her mother, an aspiring concert pianist, suffer from the inability to escape her oppressive marriage. Later, she is sent away to live with her father's relatives in the country, in the hope she’ll finally learn to submit herself to the patriarchal system and authority. But at the farm, Alessandra grows increasingly rebellious, conscious of the unjust treatment of generations of hardworking women in her family. When she refuses the marriage proposal from a neighboring farmer, she is sent back to Rome to tend to her ailing father.

In Rome, Alessandra meets Francesco, a charismatic anti-fascist professor, who ostensibly admires and supports her sense of independence and justice. But she soon comes to recognize that even as she respects Francesco and is keen to participate in his struggle to reclaim their country from fascism, this respect is unrequited, and that her own beloved husband is ensnared by patriarchal conventions when it comes to their relationship.

In these pages, De Céspedes delivers a breathtakingly accurate and timeless portrayal of the complexity of the female condition against the dramatic backdrop of WWII and the partisan uprising in Italy.

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I wore a short white dress that I would later wear all summer long, and in my hair I placed a small piece of white lace that had belonged to Nonna Editta; when I mentioned the veil, Francesco at first seemed to approve of my romantic intentions. But a little later he said, “Won’t it look theatrical?” I was mortified by his comment: I didn’t understand what he thought about the theater, and above all, about me. Yet on the morning I walked to the altar with my father, Francesco whispered to me for the first time, “You look very beautiful,” as he awkwardly held out a bouquet of gardenias. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. As a child, Alessandra feels neglected by her parents, who are still mourning the sudden death of her older brother. She attributes any bad impulses she has to his mischievous spirit. How does this resentment toward an absent but idolized male figure, combined with her hunger for love and recognition, especially from her mother, set the stage for Alessandra's destiny?

2. From an early age, Alessandra is surrounded by women and develops a keen interest in their emotional and intellectual lives. From Eleonora, Lydia, and Sista in Rome to her grandmother and aunts in the country and Fulvia and Denise during the war, Alessandra monitors them all closely. How do these women's relationships, living conditions, and personal stories contribute to Alessandra's rage over the course of the novel?

3. While focused on telling "her side of the story," Alessandra also profiles two generations of men—her father and uncle's generation, who fought in the First World War, and Francesco, Dario, and Tomaso's generation, who get swept up in the Second World War. How do these generations differ in their political and ethical beliefs and how does that affect their thoughts about and attitudes toward the women in their lives?

4. Upon reading the first draft of "Her Side of the Story", Alba's longtime editor (and friend) Arnoldo Mondadori said he found the ending unexpected and illogical. Alba replied that he didn't understand Alessandra because he was a man: "This confirms, once again, the thesis of the novel: that the congenital difference between men and women elicits a painful misunderstanding that nothing can bridge." How much of the action in this novel is provoked by a man misunderstanding a woman, in spite of her best efforts?

5. When it was first published, "Her Side of the story" was considered experimental, combining, as it does, a variety of genres—coming of age, historical, political, feminist, realist, neorealist, and autobiographical fiction. In her diary, Alba wrote that Alessandra was "the only character in which I expressed myself fully," and while she was working on the book she often signed her telegrams to Mondadori "Alba and Alessandra." How does Alba use these different genres to add depth and complexity to women's lives as they are lived, told, desired?

6. Even as she tells her story, the odds are against Alessandra. Her actions appear as love riddled, though she inevitably saves herself, turning the gun away from her own temple. Is Alessandra’s last act with Francesco an act of passion, mania, or destiny?

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