Author(s): Curzio Malaparte
"It is a shameful thing to win a war." The reliably unorthodox Curzio Malaparte's own service as an Italian liaison officer with the Allies during the invasion of Italy was the basis for this searing and surreal novel, in which the contradictions inherent in any attempt to simultaneously conquer and liberate a people beset the triumphant but ingenuous American forces as they make their way up the peninsula. Malaparte's account begins in occupied Naples, where veterans of the disbanded and humiliated Italian army beg for work, and ceremonial dinners for high Allied officers or important politicians feature the last remaining sea creatures in the city's famous aquarium. He leads the American Fifth Army along the Via Appia Antica into Rome, where the celebrations of a vast, joy-maddened crowd are only temporarily interrupted when one well-wisher slips beneath the tread of a Sherman tank. As the Allied advance continues north to Florence and Milan, the civil war intensifies, provoking in the author equal abhorrence for killing fellow Italians and for the "heroes of tomorrow," those who will come out of hiding to shout "Long live liberty" as soon as the Germans are chased away. Like Celine, another anarchic satirist and disillusioned veteran of two world wars, Malaparte paints his compatriots as in a fun-house mirror that yet speaks the truth, creating terrifying, grotesque, and often darkly comic scenes that will not soon be forgotten. Unlike the French writer however, he does so in the characteristically sophisticated, lush, yet unsentimental prose that was as responsible for his fame as was his surprising political trajectory. The Skin was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
CURZIO MALAPARTE, the pseudonym of Kurt Erich Suckert (1898-1957), was born in Prato and served in World War I. An early supporter of the Italian Fascist movement and a prolific journalist, he soon established himself as an outspoken public figure. In 1931 he incurred Mussolini's displeasure by publishing a how-to manual entitled Technique of the Coup-d'Etat, which led to his arrest and a brief term in prison. During World War II Malaparte worked as a correspondent, for much of the time on the eastern front, and this experience provided the basis for his two most famous books, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949), both available from NYRB Classics. Malaparte's political sympathies veered to the left after the war. He continued to write, while also involving himself in the theater and the cinema. The Skin was adapted for the cinema in 1981.