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Curzio Malaparte: La Pelle (The Skin)

Voglio bene agli Americani perché sono buoni cristiani, sinceramente cristiani. Perché credono che Cristo stia sempre dalla parte di coloro che hanno ragione. Perché credono che c’è una colpa aver torto, che è cosa immorale aver torto. Perché credono che essi soli son galantuomini, e che tutti i popoli d’Europa sono, più o meno, disonesti. Perché credono che un popolo vinto è un popolo di colpevoli, che la sconfitta è una condanna morale, è un atto di giustizia divina. [I like the Americans because they are good Christians, sincerely Christian. Because they believe that Christ is always on the side of those who are right. Because they believe it is a fault to be wrong, that it is immoral to be wrong. Because they believe that they are gentlemen and that all the peoples of Europe are, more or less, dishonest. Because they believe that a conquered people is a guilty people, that defeat is a moral condemnation, an act of divine justice.]

This is the main theme of this book, a follow-up to his successful Kaputt (Kaputt; later: Kaputt goes Europe!), which recounts the end of the war in Italy. As with the previous book, the narrator is called Malaparte and is clearly the author himself and the events are doubtless true or, at least, based on truth. As with Kaputt (Kaputt; later: Kaputt goes Europe!), much of the book involves, firstly, the observations of Malaparte and, secondly, his discussions with a variety of people though, in this case, it is mainly the Americans he is working with as liaison officer. This time there is a hero, though the hero is the city of Naples and its population, who have survived the war and now are eager to overthrow the Germans.

As in the previous book, Malaparte gives us a series of vignettes of his experiences and does not spare us the gory details. From the last virgin in Naples, eagerly examined by American soldiers, to the children sold to the Moroccan soldiers for sex, from the death of his American friends, right in from of him, to the sale of public wigs, all is grist for his mill and, of course, there are the various discussions, from the relative merits of Rome and Paris and the inevitable gentle putdown of the naivety and ignorance of the Americans. Ironically, though written in 1948, the message of the opening quote could have as easily been written in the 21st century. Plus ça change!

Publishing history

First published 1944 by Casella, Naples
First English translation Alvin Redman, London 1954