Books: A Number in the Air

THE SECRET (249 pp.)— -Alba de Céspedes—Simon & Schusfer ($3.50).

For Valeria Cossati, the turning point came, she thought, when her husband jokingly began calling her Mamma. Somehow it made her feel that she had lost her youth and was also beginning to lose her identity.

The middle-aged but still attractive heroine of this excellent novel by the wife of an Italian diplomat. "Mamma" Cossati is an intimidated, tradition-bound Roman housewife. She is intent on one thing: to maintain a perfect reputation for hard work and for saintly devotion to her family and her gentle husband, an underpaid bank official. Yet her problems...