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Curzio Malaparte (1898-1957) - pseudonym of Kurt Erich Suckert

 

One of the most independent and influential Italian writers of the mid-20th century. Like many young Italians in the 1920s, Malaparte converted to fascism. He also manifested his political views in his own magazine Prospettive (1937) and other publications. Malaparte's early fiction was pro-fascist, but toward the end of his life he showed understanding of Maoism. Malaparte's best book, Kaputt (1944), partly written in Finland during World War II, contrasted with grotesque humor the elegant pessimism of its cosmopolitan characters and the suffering the war caused to masses of people.

"People who live in Capri do not know, do not realize (until they leave) the paradise they live in. I have not spent a real summer in Capri since 1938. In 1939 I was in Amalfi, back from Ethiopia, with a rheumatism on my right side that was making me suffer horribly. In 1940 I was on Mont Blanc. In 1941 I was in Russia. In 1942 I was in Lapland; and this year I am in Sweden and Finland. And at least this year, I would like to enjoy Capri's summer in my own house, before I become too old." (from Malaparte's letter to Carlo A. Talamona, in Casa Malaparte by Marida Talamona, 1992)

Curzio Malaparte was born Kurt Erich Suckert in Prato, near Florence. His mother was an Italian, and his father, Erwin Suckert, a German Protestant. Until the age of six, Malaparte lived with foster parents, in the household of the metalworker Milziade Baldi. Later in life he recalled these years with affection and warmth. At the age of thirteen, Malaparte entered the Ciognini College, Prato, where read such classics as Homer and Virgil, and Mazzini, and Garibaldi, the two heroes of the risorgimento. In 1911 he joined the junior branch of the Republican Party.

At the age of sixteen Malaparte enlisted in the Garibaldian League and served on the French front until May 1915. He then transferred to the Italian army and fought with the Alpine troops. In 1918 he was exposed to the mustard gassed on the French front, and was hospitalized for three months. The damage to the lungs most likely caused his cancer and untimely death. After returning to the front, he assumend command of the 94th Section of Flamethrowers. For his bravery, Malaparte was awarded the French Cross as an officer de grande valeur.

After the war Malaparte started his career as a journalist. From 1922 until the fall of Mussolini in 1943 Malaparte was an active member of the Fascist Party, participating in the seizure of Florence and the march of Rome. In 1924 Malaparte founded the Roman periodical La Conquista dello stato, and two years later he founded with Massimo Bontempelli (1878-1960) the literary quarterly '900, which championed progress, technology, and the urban environment. In the late 1920s he became a coeditor of Fiera Letteraria (1928-31), and in Turin an editor of the daily La Stampa, turning it into a fascist publication. Malaparte's individual writings earned him enemies in the Fascist party and in 1931 he was dismissed from his post.

Malaparte published his first books in the early 1920s; his pen name was a pun on Bonaparte. The war novel La rivolta dei santi maledetti  (1921) was an interpretation of the Italian defeat at Caporetto and criticized the corrupt Rome as the real enemy. When it suited him, Malaparte didn't hesitate to take controversial, even contradictory stands. He advocated cosmopolitan views with Bontempelli and defended parochialism and rural values.   Technique du Coup d'État  (1931) attacked both Hitler and Mussolini. Anticipating that he had managed to enrage Il Duce, Malaparte took an extended to Paris. This book was one reason that led to his 'internal exile' on the island of Lipari, but what  finally prompted the authorities to act was Malaparte's slander on Italo Balbo, Marshal of the Air Force. Balbo was Italy's hero of long-distance aviation,

By the help of the businessman Count Caleazzo Ciano, who married Mussolini's daughter Edda, Malaparte was moved from Lipari, "horrible under the semi-African sun and an unimaginable wind", to Ischia – "this tenderly green Ischia, gossiply, pretentious, for holidays and dopolavoro outings," as he wrote. There he bought himself a small stone house. "I've started working again," Malaparte wrote to one of his friends, "I am burning up with desire to work, I have got a new taste for life and struggle (literary struggle, let it be clear...)". Eventually Malaparte was freed on the personal intervention of Mussolini's son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano.

After being released from custody, Malaparte founded the cultural journal Prospettive, which was viewed with suspicion by the authorities. His forum for international, modernist literature published works by Apollinaire, Claudel, Beckett, Breton, Eliot, Heidegger, Kafka, Lorca, Rilke, Sartre, and other new voices. To celebrate Christmas, Malaparte returned to Capri. From 1938 onwards, Malaparte was allowed to make foreign trips. At the outbreak of the war, he was recalled to service, but in an admimistrative role. He saw action on the Franco-Italian front and was allowed to travel relatively freely in the territories occupied by Germany.

Malaparte's house in Capri, sited on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and designed by the author himself, has been called the most beautiful house in the world. The director Jean-Luc Godard filmed there Le Mépris, his adaptation of Alberto Moravia's novel Il Disprezzo, starring Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, and Jack Palance. Casa Malaparte, 28 meters long and 6.6 meters wide, was built on the windy and barren cliff of Massulto. As a manifestation of modern achitecture, it rejected the popular "Capri style." Malaparte worked busily with his house project between 1938 and 1942, and in November 1942 he announced that "the house is about finished..." Actually, it was not. One of his friends later told that Malaparte was always broke, because there was always a wall, or a bathroom, or a window to redo. In La Pelle (1949, The Skin) Malaparte fabricated a story that the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had visited the house before the battle of El Alamein. The legendary tank commander asked if the writer had desingned the house. Pointing towards the sea, Malaparte said he had only created the scenery.

Throughout his life, Malaparte was a traveller. Occasionally he sent postcards to his dogs. For a relatively long period, he lived with Virginia Agnelli, the widow of the founder of Fiat cars. Malaparte had a great success with women, and after Agnelli, he chased younger women who gave him the stimulus he needed. During the World War II Malaparte worked as a correspondent for Corriere della Sera. He made a sojourn to East Africa in 1939 and spent a short time in Greece, where he wrote a series of articles about human rights abuses. The Fascist and Nazi authorities were not happy with Malaparte's reports, but he was granted exclusive rights to follow the advancing German troops in the Soviet Union in daily articles. Malaparte's correspondence from France in 1940-41 was collected in Il sole è cieco (1947) and from the USSR in 1941-42 in Il Volga nasce in Europa (1943). Nearly all the copies of this edition, published by Bompiani, were destroyed by British bombs. The book was printed again, but this time it was banned and burned by the German authorities. Then it was reprinted in 1951, with a foreword by the author. The reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement said of The Volga Rises in Europe, "...it convincingly confirms Malaparte's right, whatever his faults, to be one of the most brilliant reporters of out time."

Malaparte was in Finland when he heard the news of Mussolini's fall. He returned immediately to Italy, and in July he was taken to the Regina Coeli prison, where he asked the same cell he had occupied in 1933. Malaparte was released in August and he settled in Capri. After the allied landed on the island, he was arrested again – before the end of the war he experienced it several times. In 1944 he hosted in his house Palmiro Togliatti, who drafted his speech for the meeting of the Communist party officials in Naples. During the last months of the war Malaparte worked as the Italian Army Contingent liaison officer with the Allied Command. Under the pseudonym of Gianni Strozzi he published in the leftist magazine L'Unita a series of articles on the liberation of Florence.

His international fame Malaparte established with two war novels: Kaputt, and The Skin, its sequel, which was placed on the index of books forbidden to Roman Catholics. Episodic Kaputt was based on his own experiences as a journalist in the uniform of a Captain of the Italian army. Malaparte's observations centered on the Fascist elite, Nazi collaborators and high officials in places like Finland or Romania. In the relentless account of Europe crumbling under the war Malaparte depicted frozen horses on the Lake Ladoga at the Finnish front, life in the Warsaw ghetto, politicians behind the war scene, and degenerate diplomatic corps. It also included an account of the massacre of the Jews in Iasi, Romania, in 1941 – perhaps the first important literary treatment of the Holocaust. The book became a bestseller and was translated into ten languages, among others into Finnish in the 1960s.

La pelle was a surrealistic tale of the degradation of moral and social values in Naples, where everything is for sale after the city's liberation by the allied forces. The book caused a scandal because it was mistaken for a realistic work. Its title referred to Malaparte's comment that once flags have lost their meaning, people are only willing to fight for the flag that is their own skin. With this work, Malaparte became a forerunner of gonzo journalism. "But I'm a free artist, I don't depend on the simple reality", he once said.

In 1947 Malaparte settled in Paris and wrote dramas without much success. In the country retreat of his Parisian friend at Jouy-en-Josas he wrote a collection essays and recorded in his diary his thoughts as an expatriate, published posthumously in 1966 under the title Diario di uno straniero a Parigi. "During the war, I know that you did your duty as a free man," says the Italian ambassador Quaroni to the narrator, who feels that he is not accepted by the French society due to his past political affiliations. However, Malaparte portrays himself in several episodes more of an aesthetic connoisseur than a political journalist and critic of his time.

Malaparte's dramas did not bring him the success he had hoped for. Du côté de chez Proust , which premiered in 1948, was based on the life of Marcel Proust. Also Das Kapital (1949), about Karl, went unnoticed. Cristo Proibito (Forbidden Christ), a film that Malaparte both scripted and directed, got lukewarm press comments in Italy. One reviewer said it was "inert, improbable and strangled by the literature." However, released in the United States in 1953 as Strange Deception, it was voted among the five best foreign films by National Board Of Review.  Starring Raf Vallone, Rina Morelli and Alain Cuny the film was shot in and around the Tuscan village of Montepulciano. In the story a war veteran returns to his village to revenge the death of his brother, shot by the Germans. "Though this strange mixture of sacred and philosophical sentiments is continuously asking such questions as "Why must the innocent always pay?" it rarely offers any constructive answers." (A. W. in The New York Times, May 27, 1953) The music score contains a reference the Finnish folk song 'Karjalan kunnailla' (The Hills of Karelia).

Malaparte also produced the variety show Sexophone and planned to cross the United States on bicycle. Just before his death Malaparte completed the treatment of another film, Il Compagno P. After the establishment of The People's Republic of China in 1949 Malaparte became interested in the Maoist version of Communism, but his journey to China was cut short by illness, and he was flown back to Rome. Io in Russia e in Cina, a journal from the journey, was published posthumously in 1958. Malaparte's final book, Maledetti toscani (1956, Those Cursed Tuscans), an analysis of Tuscan character and attack on bourgeois culture, aroused much  controversy in Italy as it was meant to do. Phoebe Adams wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, that on the whole, the book "tells little about Tuscany or anything else except Malaparte." Malaparte died of lung cancer in Rome on July 19, 1957. On his deathbed Malaparte converted to Catholicism – his last act of rebelliousness or final act of opportunism. His beautiful house Malaparte left to the Chinese Communist Government.

For further information: Malaparte, vies et légendes by Maurizio Serra (2011); Curzio Malaparte: The Narrative Contract Strained by William Hope (2000); Malaparte: A House Like Me by Michael McDonough (1999); World Authors 1900-1950 Vol. 3, by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Casa Malaparte by Marida Talamona (1992); Malaparte in Jassy by S. Astrachan (1989); Twentieth Century Writing, ed. by K. Richardson (1969); 'Lähikuva Curzio Malapartesta' by Matti Kurjensaari, foreword to the Finnish translation of Kaputt (1967); Letteratura italiana: i contemporanei, Vol. 2 (1975) - Other writers with nazi or fascist sympathies: Ezra Pound, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Knut Hamsun

Selected works:

  • La rivolta dei santi maledetti, 1921 (also: Viva Caporetto!)
  • Le nozze degli eunuchi, 1921
  • L'Europa vivente, 1923
  • Italia barbara, 1926
  • Avventure di un capitano di sventura, 1927
  •  L'Arcitaliano, 1928
  • Intelligenza di Lenin, 1930
  • Technique du coup d'état, 1931
    - The Technique of Revolution (translated by Sylvia Saunder, 1932)
  • Sodoma e Gomorra, 1931
  • I custodi del disordine, 1931
  • Fughe in prigione, 1936
  • Sangue, 1937
  • Viaggio in inferno, 1938
  • Donna come me, 1940
    - A Woman Like Me (translated by Robin Monotti Graziadei, 2007)
  • Il sole è cieco, 1941
  • Il Volga nasce in Europa, 1943
    - The Volga Rises in Europe (translated by David Moore, 1957)
    - Edessä palaa Leningrad (suom. Marja-Leena Mikkola, 1970)
  • Kaputt, 1944
    - Kaputt (translated by Cesare Foligno, 1946)
    - Kaputt (suom. Eila Kostamo, 1967)
  • Don Camaleo, 1946
  • La Peau, 1948
  • Du côté de chez Proust, 1948 (play, perf.)
  • Il battibecco, 1949
  • Storia di domani, 1949
  • La pelle, 1949
    - The Skin (translated by David Moore, 1952)
    - Iho (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1969)
    - film 1981, dir. by Liliana Cavani, screenplay by Robert Katz, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ken Marshall, Alexandra King, Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster
  • Das Kapital, 1949 (play, perf.)  
  • Il Cristo proibito, 1951 (film)
    - The Forbidden Christ / Strange Deception, dir. and written by Malaparte, starring Anna Maria Ferrero, Rina Morelli, Raf Vallone, Elena Varzi
  • Anche le donne hanno perso la guerra, 1954 [The Women Lost the War Too] (play, perf.)
  • Maledetti toscani, 1956
    - Those Cursed Tuscans (translated by Rex Benedict, 1964)
  • Racconti italiani, 1957
  • Io, in Russia e in Cina, 1958
  • Mamma marcia, 1959
  • Opere complete di Curzio Malaparte, 1959  (edited by Enrico Falqui)
  • Benedetti italiani, 1961
  • L'Europa vivente e altri saggi politici (1921-1931), 1961 (edited by Enrico Bonan)
  • Diario di uno straniero a Parigi / Journal d'un étranger à Paris, 1966
  • Battibecco 1953-1957, 1967 (edited by Enrico Falqui)
  • Il dorato sole dell'inferno etrusco e altre prose, 1985 (introduction by Luigi Testaferrata)
  • Malaparte, 1991 (ed. Edda Ronchi Suckert)
  • Mi scriveva Malaparte, 1994 (edited by René Novella)
  • Opere scelte, 1997 (edited by Luigi Martinelli)
  • Lotta con l'angelo, 1997 (edited by Luigi Martinelli)


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