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Kaputt (New York Review Books Classics)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Curzio Malaparte is the pseudonym of Kurt Erich Suckert, born in South Tirol (part of Italy). As a reporter he travelled extensively through German-occupied Europe during the Second World War and did not shun the front lines. But he also had access to the "Big Names" of fascism, such as Himmler, Franck (the governor of Poland) and the son-in-law of Mussolini. But above all Malaparte remained an outsider with deviant opinions that landed him in Italian prisons a few times.

In a rather unemotional style (for most of the book) he describes the everyday horrors of war: sleeping in a house with a horse carcass rotting next to it, the upper ten of a city playing bridge while at the same time the Jews of their city are massacred. But also the dinner conversations at Governor Franck's place, in which the arrogance, absence of (self)reflection and total lack of humor of the other attendants are both stunning and revealing. And the 'beau monde' of Italy which is more concerned with the latest developments in the love life of Mussolini's son-in-law than with the fact that Italy is very obviously losing the war.

But Malaparte also describes the everyday miseries of war: a father who hides some small presents in his backyard so that his kids think in the morning that the English fighter planes were there to drop of presents rather than bomb the city to pieces. To me this was the most touching story in the book.

A well-written book with as a minor criticism that the story does not relly lead anywhere, but this is probably normal for an autobiography: real life very seldom leads to something.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2013
Curzio Malaparte fell out of favour with Mussolini after the publication of his scandalous treatise on how to mount a coup d'état - alas, unavailable in English at the moment. Released from prison he got himself accredited as a war correspondent, and travelled through the Europe of the Third Reich, from Yugoslavia to Finland via the occupied Soviet Union and Poland. This is the secret manuscript he was writing at the time, but instead of battles and heroism, it speaks of boredom, drunkenness, fear, inhumanity and simple stupidity. Most of all it speaks of decay and decline. Partly this is the decay of the inter-war elite of ambassadors and minor aristocrats, more interested in gossip and golf than the Europe which is disintegrating around them. Partly also it is the class of stupid but evil leaders which has arisen to replace them under the lash of war: the Croatian leader Pavelic, who keeps a bucket of human eyes gouged from his enemies on his desk, Heinrich Himmler glimpsed as a white blob in a Finnish sauna. Alles ist kaputt, says Malaparte: even the description of a liberated Italy offers despair and exhaustion, rather than hope.
How much of this is literal truth, and how much is fiction, is not really the point. The story is written with hallucinatory vividness, and is full of surreal scenes which are so bizarre that they probably actually happened. As a report from behind the front lines of the human soul in wartime it is unlikely to be bettered: even if some of it has been rewritten for effect. And what effect.
The translation is generally excellent, although the Afterword, which tries to explain why Malaparte was not writing as a contemporary politically-correct American historian would, adds nothing and may be dispensed with.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2008
Malaparte was an opportunist, social climber, raconteur and political amateur. He was also a gifted writer. How much is truth in this book, and how much is not, is actually irrelevant if one accepts this as the particular document of a fickle man during the war. The book is a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, his encounters with personalities, most of them reviled. Whether or not Malaparte actually met them, spoke with them as he relates or whether or not he changed his opinion of them as the war for Italy took a downward course is open to conjecture. What he did do however, was to add to the mythology of war and its horrors. Himmler in a Helsinki lift and later a white blob in a sauna, and a murderer; Hans Frank as a cultured pianist, and murderer; the wives, girlfriends, their table talk that comes around always to the murder of Jews.

Kaputt is the title and the meaning is the destruction and end of European "Culture" as it appeared to be in the 1940s. The book does not dwell on war, and if you want a description of war or camps, this is not for you. If you want to experience the ambiguities and contradictions of people under pressure in a highly charged life and death situation, then you will get something from this book. The book was published in 1944 when the war was still going and the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and the "unfit" was taking place and as such is important as being perhaps an indicator that within the elites in the Fascist countries, people (WAGs insluded) - did know what was happening, despite post war denials of this.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2011
Although very well written with very evocative descriptions, the book has an insincere dishonest tone that detaches the reader from many of the scenes - imagined or not - of the undoubted horror and brutality of war. There's a narcissistic arrogance about the author that makes you feel the book is as much about justifying him as it is about damning the folly of war. It's due to this that, despite the beautiful writing style and the interesting perspective (behind enemy lines) it offers, I cannot go beyond three out of five.

That said, it does offer this alternative and often unheard perspective on the war and that can make it an interesting historical artefact for some despite its undoubted shortcomings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2011
FACT OR FICTION? Where do all these tales come from...the imagination, the reality or a mix of the two....inbetween....

Malaparte is a lyrical host to splendour and horror, in the palaces of pain, he lives on the other side of the suffering from 1941-42. his war, in the early stage is a witness to the axis consolditation of power in the east and the north. He dines in style with the mandarins of the lebesnraum,the quislings of the willing partner-nations, their women and their mistresses.

Malaparte is far more of a sympathetic character than I believed, visions flashed across my mind of baleful,cynical narratives of horor without intelligence but then I came back to him, a partner to Celine,an artist. Neither are blameless but they were out to create art, nothing was simple in their minds, not right or wrong, the grey area of real-life.

Large sections of this "account", may be false. The sorry gallery of axis personalities was quite illuminating. Frank,Ciano,Pavlevic and others,overwhelmingly obsessed with tiny details,vainglorius,empty full of intellectual poverty. Malaparte quips and observes but never quite steps out as the voice of morality, more often he is the voice of empty,calm despair.

The "account" swings between battlefronts in russia,finland,romania and then italy,never quite sitting still. The point where this narrative suddenly seems to smack you in the face is the final 25 pages or so,when Malaparte visits Naples,just as Italy had changed sides in WW2. Now he is witnessing and suffering the devastations he cooly observed back on the eastern front. Naples is burning, the people are starving, he is tired,dejected,released from prison and starting to feel the pain of this war.

No account where so much time is spent as a guest of the Axis regime can be read with any real enjoyment but Malaparte is a beautiful.lyrical writer, full of incredible metaphors and imagery. So often his prose soothes the violence and the viciousness in the events he describes and lifts you to a higher plain.

Is this fact or fiction? Nobody seems to know exactly. Malaparte did not witness the pogrom at Jassy in Romania and the Soroca brothel seems to be a sick fantasy but I'm pretty sure 60-70% of this "account" is true and it's a remarkable body of work.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2007
This book was published in 1944 in Italy and in English in 1946. It covers events the author claimed to have observed in 1941-43, presented in seemingly random order, while he served as a war correspondent for a major Italian newspaper, accompanying the German army on the Eastern Front.

Malaparte (1898-1957) was an early member of the Fascist Party in Italy. A man of letters without political influence, he was expelled in the early 1930s and spent some years in internal exile. Between 1938 and 1943, he was arrested several times and imprisoned briefly in Rome. Still, his party connections, earlier diplomatic experience and status as a writer of note enabled him to work from 1941 on the Eastern Front for the Corriere della Sera. He's been called an enigma, contrary, opportunistic, a political chameleon who changed allegiances several times in the course of his life.

His book began abruptly in Sweden, with no background or context, but after a chapter or two his method became clearer. Most of the chapters were devoted to highlighting one or two locations and powerful images that supported the picture of barbarism he was trying to convey. The Leningrad Front ca. 1942 and frozen enemy soldiers used as traffic sentries. The Ukraine in summer 1941 and a foal born from a dying horse. Finland in April 1943, a frozen lake full of dead animals, and a dream of a crucified horse. Krakow in 1943 and a dinner with Hans Frank, the governor-general of conquered Poland. A banquet in Warsaw in February 1942 with German leaders, contrasted with the desperate conditions he observed in the Warsaw Ghetto. A pogrom in Jassy, Romania in June 1941, and so on.

His descriptions showed the German leaders blinded by their racist ideology, capable of playing Chopin with feeling in an afternoon and shooting at a child hours later. And a Balkan leader expressing his love for his homeland and detailing a high-minded political program while keeping body parts of enemies on his desk.

Initially, Malaparte alternated his description of horrors with memories of better days in prewar times, spent in Paris, Capri and elsewhere with cultured friends from many countries of Europe, and with friends in the diplomatic corps of Spain and Sweden during peaceful interludes in wartime Scandinavia. His description of the culture and civilization shared by upper-class friends from many nations was contrasted implicitly with the breakdown of values observed nearly everywhere during the war.

There were many interesting passages, such as when the German governor-general discussed his policy in Poland toward the church, aristocracy, middle class and workers. Moving passages, as when Malaparte observed the Poles' veneration of the Czestochowa Madonna. And terrible ones, as when he and others searched the countryside for an injured Jewish man who'd been taken away during a pogrom. The description of this pogrom must be one of the very early appearances in literature of the Holocaust.

In contrast to some other readers on Amazon, I felt that Malaparte did express shock and outrage about many of the events he experienced. His feelings were demonstrated, for example, in his remarks to the police chief in Jassy, his admiration expressed for another who denounced the chief, his joining the search to help find a victim, his compassion for girls kept in a brothel, and his frequent mockery and sarcasm in reported conversation with the Germans.

In the book's first half, as the gruesome events and images accumulated, cataloging the cruelty, suffering and betrayal of human values, they brought to mind the darkest paintings of Bruegel or Bosch, depicting the triumph of death or the chaos of hell. Here, the book was capable of searing images into the brain. For me, the most forceful example of this kind of writing was found about halfway through, in a chapter titled "Cricket in Poland," which contrasted a banquet of German leaders in Warsaw with the brutal expression of their thinking in a Romanian village.

The chilling atmosphere and focus weren't sustained. Many of the later chapters were devoted mainly to describing long drinking bouts during stopovers in wartime Finland and Sweden, and recording aimless conversation and gossip at parties in wartime Germany and Rome. He was showing the morally indifferent, pleasure-seeking members of the smart set back home who were well insulated from the war and concerned only with who was in and out of favor, and maybe the reality of alternating wartime horror and civilian boredom. But for me, this could've been described at greatly reduced length and with a far more balanced sense of proportion.

The book concluded with absurd situations such as a general's hunt for the last salmon in Lappland and minute analyses of the qualities of Mussolini's son-in-law and various others in Italian society. By the end, I was left with the feeling that the book was grossly uneven, written by a man who gave equal weight to the terrors of war and the table talk of the upper class in wartime, a man with a descriptive gift who lacked a sustained sense of moral outrage.
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on 2 April 2014
Malaparte's description of life as a house guest of Hans Frank, Governor-General of Nazi occupied Poland is completely unlike any other writing to come out of the Third Reich. It is in a class apart, with Malaparte as deliciously unreliable narrator.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2010
The other reviews are not wrong in the detail given and their giving this a good star rating is apt.

I would like to emphasise the impressions I got from this book. The book oscillates in time, being a muddle of real events and fictions which have no real narrative arc, and so there is no story of `war' as such. The other reviewers highlight the impressionable horrific scenes of war (Jewish prostitutes, frozen Russians etc) but I found these episodes were overwhelmed by the number and length of the social interactions depicted by Malaparte - especially when the afterword by Hofstadter questions these particular most powerful events as being fictional - not knowing what was real or fiction means you will probably have to make the decision to read the whole as fiction, realistic though it may appear. A further observation is that Malaparte may well have started the book thinking the axis powers might win, so may later have re-edited his first drafts accordingly - this book though written contemporaneously with the war is hence a very unreliable `witness' to the war. I wonder how the book would look if edited to be linear in time. The author has a strange style in occassionally repeating a sentence (perhaps only slightly modified) half a page on - this gives a deja vu feel to some scenes.

However this is a really good read. It has hints of magical realism about it; the social scenes, dialogue and the narrator's ever present intellect hold the account of war in an engaging and novel way. This is a book about the impression and images of war, the social elites existing apparently outside of war and some clever similes: read and enjoy but don't be tempted to believe any of the events as really having occurred.
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on 26 March 2015
An excellent long forgotten or ignored superbly written take on the Eastern Front from an ex-fascist beginning to see the light.
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on 29 July 2015
History as it is....
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