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Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt (Kaputt)

This book reads like a memoir and is clearly substantially autobiographical but both Malaparte and Italian critics say that it is a novel, so here it is. Whatever it is, it is a fascinating though long read by a highly educated man who is on the wrong side in the war and knows it. Malaparte the author and Malaparte the narrator of this book was a journalist attached to the Italian army and, as such, travelled around wartime Europe and saw a lot to criticise. This is the story – or rather stories, as we get a series of episodes – of an educated, cosmopolitan man who can look on the horrors around him, sometimes with a detached eye but often with a cynical or bitter eye. Some of his stories are simply grotesque, such as the story of the horses frozen in the lake in Finland, that have to be removed when the ice melts. Others are horrific, as he describes the pogrom against the Jews in Iasi, Romania and the generally unsuccessful attempts he and others make to rescue some of the victims. (Remember that this was written when the Holocaust was not generally recognised.) The most interesting stories are his subtle but cruel putdowns of the famous, from Count de Foxa, the Spanish envoy to Sweden and defender of Franco and Spanish traditions, to Hans Frank, Governor General of Poland, who comes across as an educated man, somewhat disgusted about what he is doing (but happy to turn a blind eye to it). This book is a times mesmerising, at times horrific but never boring and should be essential reading.

Publishing history

First published 1944 by Casella, Naples
First English translation E P Dutton 1946