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Photographer: Lauren Spinelli

Book review: The Skin by Curzio Malaparte

Though this volume doesn't quite measure up to this fascinating fascist's earlier novel, Kaputt, its look at a tattered, 1943 Italy is difficult but rewarding.


By Curzio Malaparte. New York Review Books Classics, $17.

Curzio Malaparte (born Kurt Erich Suckert) was as slippery a presence as one could find in WWII Europe. Initially a vocal supporter of fascism, he was later thrown in prison by former patron Mussolini. His books also defy easy description. Set in Italy during the 1940s Allied occupation, The Skin is a dark mix of autobiography, social commentary, history and fantastical elements, strung together in Malaparte's unique, smirking idiom.

Malaparte’s alter ego (also named Malaparte) works as a liaison officer for the American army. It’s 1943 and the war is not yet over, but Italy is already physically and psychologically devastated. Parents sell their children into slavery for scraps of food, and prostitution is the country's only growth industry. In each vignette, Malaparte acts as a sort of spokesman for the defeated nation, at once obsequious and condescending to his new American overlords. He’s a pretty repellent character, at times racist or homophobic, and always cynical, though given the circumstances, the cynicism, at least, is understandable. Kaputt, Malaparte’s earlier novel about his time among the more terrible Nazis on the Eastern Front, is incredible. If The Skin is the lesser of the two books, it’s probably because the ever-unsentimental Malaparte found his subject matter too uncomfortably close to his heart.

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