Yesterday morning, skimming the newest issue of The New York Review of Books (NYRB) while the morning coffee brewed , there it was — Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte — in the advertisement “Great Novels of World War II from NYRB Classics.”
I couldn’t believe it. Long ago, before I was skilled in the search for books and before viaLibri, Bilio.com, AbeBooks and other online resources, I searched in vain for this memoir in libraries and used bookstores. My hand-written note about the title in a forgotten list of desired old books, out-of-print books, curious books says, “Memoir written behind Nazi lines – essential reading – out of print.”
Kaputt was published by Dutton in 1946 and sold for $3.75 (407 pages). It is based on Malaparte’s experiences during WWII as an Italian war correspondent covering Axis Europe. Given the author was one of the original Italian Fascists interacting with Mussolini and Hitler’s officials, American critics questioned how much his story could be trusted.
The New York Times critic, Orville Prescott, wrote on November 5, 1946: “Mr. Malaparte’s own record is such that one cannot be certain of his sincerity and one cannot know how much of Kaputt to believe.” But he also wrote that Kaputt was “one of the most remarkable books yet to come out of the second World War.” He called it “engrossing” and “amazing.” Time magazine on November 11, 1946, described Kaputt as a “readable and often brilliant distillation of Malaparte’s war experience.”
That word “readable” needs to be taken with some caution: From what I’ve read in the online articles, Malaparte witnessed horrific German atrocities while at the same time he socialized with German officials. What he recorded in Kaputt is grotesque inhumanity and moral depravity, or, as Prescott wrote, a “moral abyss.”
Regarding The New York Review of Books Classics series, from their website: “NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.”
Update: This post was updated on 10.26.10 with a better image of the NYRB Classics book cover. An image of the first edition published by Dutton in 1946 was removed.