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Skin (European Classics) [Paperback]

Malaparte
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 1997 European Classics

“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 Céline, 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.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press; Reissue edition (Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810115727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810115729
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,921,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

''this sulphurous classic of a non-fiction novel ... his glittering, swaggering nihilism still has the power to shock as he flays both Allied Naivety and Italian corruption."

(Boyd Tonkin The Independent)

'Now the indispensable New York Review Books has given us the first complete translation into English of The Skin.  An embodiment of Europe's bad conscience, Malaparte's voice was one that right-thinking people of every denomination preferred not to hear.  That is why this difficult book was so hated and condemned when it first appeared, and remains so well worth reading.'
(New Statesman)

The sordid underclass of the town possess a lust for life and a will to live, and the unbearable becomes bearable - even magnified - for the reader in this beautiful homage to his hometown which Malaparte tinges with the absurd and black humor.

(Vogue Paris)

In The Skin the war is not yet over, but its conclusion is already decided. The bombs are still falling, but falling now on a different Europe. Yesterday no one had to ask who was the executioner and who the victim. Now, suddenly, good and evil have veiled their faces; the new world is still barely known . . . the person telling the tale is sure of only one thing: he is certain he can be certain of nothing. His ignorance becomes wisdom.

(Milan Kundera)

Malaparte enlarged the art of fiction in more perverse, inventive and darkly liberating ways than one would imagine possible, long before novelists like Philip Roth, Robert Coover, and E. L. Doctorow began using their own and other people’s histories as Play-Doh.

(Gary Indiana)

Surreal, disenchanted, on the edge of amoral, Malaparte broke literary ground for writers from Ryszard Kapuscinski to Joseph Heller.

(Frederika Randall, Wall Street Journal)

A skilled guide to the lowest depths of Europe’s inferno.

(Adrian Lyttelton, The Times Literary Supplement)

A scrupulous reporter? Probably not. One of the most remarkable writers of the 20th century? Certainly.

(Ian Buruma) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

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.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Degradation and despair in WW2 Europe 24 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is not an easy book, and it is not a book for everybody. In fact, if you believe in the manifest destiny of your country or are used to dividing people between winners and losers, save your time and do not buy this book because you would not understand it.
Malaparte's book is a series of autobiographic episodes set in WW2 Italy. It shows the despair and degradation of a place where everything, everything is for sale and the only thing that matters is your skin, saving your skin and living another day. In many respects, however, Italy becomes a metaphor for the whole of Europe (watch the movie "Berlin - year 0") in those times, and perhaps mankind. In fact, Malaparte's language is often poetic and his book transcends his times to become a universal portrait of suffering man. It is the suffering, defeated man that Malaparte takes pity of, while describing man in his hour of triumph as "unbearable".
Among all the rhetoric on the Liberation and the magnificent new future that awaited Europe after the war, here is a writer who preferred to set his eyes on a painful present. Malaparte gives us a description of a terrible time which has the same timeless value as Thucidides' account of the plague in Athens.
A particularly enjoyable part of the book is the description of the contact between the Old and the New World. Malaparte, an officer of the Italian Corps that fought alongside the Allies in the Italian campaign from 1943 onwards, was very good friend with some American officers and knew General Clark.
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5.0 out of 5 stars DON'T HESITATE 23 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Malaparte as you like...starts slowly but tumbles down the depth of hell most precipitously. A must read for all good stinking christians and others
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding, Shocking, Wonderful 2 April 2014
By Helena
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was my first experience of Malaparte, and at first his magical realism was a shock to the system. As it began to dawn on me that some of the writing is an artefact of imagination, I was left with the still more disturbing idea that if not all of the work was imaginal, then what was not imagined must be true, real events that happened to real people.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic 7 May 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
WW II from a different perspective. A must read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Degradation and despair in WW2 Europe 4 Dec 2000
By P. volini - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not an easy book, and it is not a book for everybody. In fact, if you believe in the manifest destiny of your country or are used to dividing people between winners and losers, save your time and do not buy this book because you would not understand it.
Malaparte's book is a series of autobiographic episodes set in WW2 Italy. It shows the despair and degradation of a place where everything, everything is for sale and the only thing that matters is your skin, saving your skin and living another day. In many respects, however, Italy becomes a metaphor for the whole of Europe (watch the movie "Berlin - year 0") in those times, and perhaps mankind. In fact, Malaparte's language is often poetic and his book transcends his times to become a universal portrait of suffering man. It is the suffering, defeated man that Malaparte takes pity of, while describing man in his hour of triumph as "unbearable".
Among all the rhetoric on the Liberation and the magnificent new future that awaited Europe after the war, here is a writer who preferred to set his eyes on a painful present. Malaparte gives us a description of a terrible time which has the same timeless value as Thucidides' account of the plague in Athens.
A particularly enjoyable part of the book is the description of the contact between the Old and the New World. Malaparte, an officer of the Italian Corps that fought alongside the Allies in the Italian campaign from 1943 onwards, was very good friend with some American officers and knew General Clark. He has left us a wonderful description of the mixed feelings of the US troops in experiencing, often for the first time, the reality of Europe, of their obscure fascination and, at the same time, contempt for "corrupt" Europe, of their genuine innocence mixed with a presumption of moral superiority. In an unforgettable dialogue, an American woman serving in the auxiliary forces contemptiously asks Malaparte how can women in Naples prostitute themselves for a packet of cigarettes, clearly they must be putting their habit ahead of their honor. Malaparte drily answers that "With a packet of cigarettes, they can buy 3 kgs of bread"...
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Worlds Collide... 13 Sep 2000
By Vince Cabrera - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The Skin" is a complex and fascinating book.
Ostensibly it is about the American army arriving in Italy during WWII and coming into contact (often for the first time) with Europe's spiritual and moral corruption and degradation. The idea was copied a (little) bit by Joseph Heller in Catch-22. If you've read Catch-22, you have SOME an idea about what to expect.
But "The Skin" is a deeper book than Catch-22, and Malaparte was much more interested in the differences between the decadence of the old world and the brash, conquering innocence of the New World, where things such as defeat are considered physically and morally impossible. Defeat is actually seen as morally reprehensible and somehow or other, the fault of the defeated.
Unlike Heller, Malaparte never portrays the military or the politicians as out and out bufoons: he realizes that people are invariably more complex than that.
It is a rare combination of intellectual writing, combined with moments of vibrantly dark humour. An example: when an American liason officer speaks about Italian women selling their bodies, Malaparte replies that all that they are actually selling is their hunger. And that it'd be a marvellous thing if every American soldier could take home a piece of hunger to show his wife what amazing things you can buy for money.
The title, by the way, refers to Malaparte's comment that once flags have been proven worthless and shamed, the only flag people are willing to fight for is that of their own skin. The indomitable spirit of mankind is shown to be a greedy, grasping thing that will stop at nothing in order to continue existing. And the spectacle is anything but edifying.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic 21 Mar 2000
By Ian Burley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I don't know this translation but "The Skin" is one of the most powerful books that I have ever read. Ostensibly a portrait of Naples following the city's liberation by the allied forces in 1943, it in fact provides a view of the state of Europe before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Rather than a constructed narrative, it's a series of episodes set in war-time Naples or on the Russian Front where Malaparte witnessed the horrors committed by the Nazis (one particularly terrifying episode set in a Russian forest at night will haunt me for a long while). There are also lighter moments (such as the blackly comic dinner for American officers when the last surviving fish of the Naples aquarium is served on a bed of coral) but the one thing that comes to the fore throughout is the sheer power of the survival spirit, the lengths that human beings will go to save their skin. Malaparte's magnificently poetic language makes this one of the classics of the 20th century.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Original: Incredibly Mesmerizing 17 Dec 2013
By John Mccarthy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Allow me to begin with praise for the prose. Whether it's the gift of Malaparte or his translator, or both, the writing itself is glorious. It flows, and flows, and flows, and each and every story has its own magical and magnetic attraction.

As for the story or, should I rather say, the six or seven stories themselves, they are almost unspeakably original in the casual and aloof way he writes about moral, spiritual, and physical degradation. This is a dark story about us humans, and what happens when, as Malaparte narrates, the human animal is left with nothing but an attempt to detach itself from the horrors that are taking place in and around it. Unspeakable things happen, and they are seen and noted as if they were ordinary and everyday experiences. This is a dark tale about what can happen when all moral and spiritual barriers are broken. I warmly recommend it to you.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MOUNT VESUVIUS SPEAKS TO THE U.S. ALLIES 11 Dec 2013
By K. Egan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As with Malaparte's other book about WWII, Kaputt, this one is mesmerizingly appalling. Set almost entirely in Naples after the Allies landed, Malaparte weaves together commentary on the American national character with musings on the mid-century degradation of western civilization. He describes Neapolitans, both high and low, as a race unto its own -- a race of "paga-tholics," or "catho-gans." And the Italian landscape is itself an ever present character. Mount Vesuvius, the island of Capri, Monte Cassino, and the Via Appia. A must-read for devotees of WWII literature.
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