Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Skin by Curzio Malaparte. (1949). A Second Reading

When I read The Skin,in September of 2013,  Curzio Malaparte I finished it completely stunned and drained.  I knew I had encountered a great work of art that certainly transcended my ability to begin to deal with on first encounter.  I just finished my second reading and have of scheduled for a third next year.

Below the cover images is my post from Seotember 2013. 

New thoughts

 I was much more impressed and amazed by the book on second reading.  I think readers of the novel will be divided between those who abandon it after twenty pages or so, those who get off on the squalor and whorishness of Naples in World War Two right after the Americans arrive and those are stunned by the power of the work.  It is for sure high art, cruelly so.  It wonderfully describes the total degradation of Naples by the war but beyond this it is a story of Europe versus America, Cartesian Logic versus the irrationality and barbarity of life in Europe.  Malaparte is in touch with old chaotic forces, he loves  death, decay, corruption.  As I read on in The Skin I feel like I am being assaulted by a force I can barely understand.  

Some say it is one of the greatest of World War Two novels and I accept this.  I think when you first begin to read it you will say ok this is a powerful city ruined by war book, and you will be right.  As and if you go on and give yourself over to tne book, you may have one of the greatest reading experiences of your life.  

One reading for sure is not enough.

The Skin is a very complex, dark, strange work of art.  It is set in Naples in 1943, the American Army has just taken Sicily from the Nazis.   The Skin combines the cultural depth of Ford Madox Ford, the seen it all veneer of decayed aristocracy of Gregor Von Rezzori, with depth of Joseph Roth.  I have thought and thought about what I might say about The Skin.  I can come up with nothing more than to say I hope to read this work once a year for the rest of my reading life.  

Curzio Malaparte (pseudonym of Kurt Eric Suckert, 1898–1957) was born in Prato, Italy, and served in World War I. An early supporter of the Italian Fascist movement and a prolific journalist, Malaparte 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; available as an NYRB classic) and The Skin (1949). His political sympathies veered to the left after the war. He continued to write, while also involving himself in the theater and the cinema. New York Review of Books.  

This work was translated by David Moore in 2012.  Prior translations were heavily bowdlerized.  There is an insightful introduction by Rachel Kushner, the author of Flamethowers. 

Here is the publisher's description:

This is the first unexpurgated English edition of Curzio Malaparte’s legendary work The Skin. The book begins in 1943, with Allied forces cementing their grip on the devastated city of Naples. The sometime Fascist and ever-resourceful Curzio Malaparte is working with the Americans as a liaison officer. He looks after Colonel Jack Hamilton, “a Christian gentleman … an American in the noblest sense of the word,” who speaks French and cites the classics and holds his nose as the two men tour the squalid streets of a city in ruins where liberation is only another word for desperation. Veterans of the disbanded Italian army beg for work. A rare specimen from the city’s famous aquarium is served up at a ceremonial dinner for high-ranking Allied officers. Prostitution is rampant. The smell of death is everywhere.

Subtle, cynical, evasive, manipulative, unnerving, always astonishing, Malaparte is a supreme artist of the unreliable, both the product and the prophet of a world gone rotten to the core.

The Skin is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for November 2013.

Mel u

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