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Authors: Curzio Malaparte

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Kaputt

BOOK: Kaputt
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KAPUTT

CURZIO MALAPARTE

Translated from the Italian by

CESARE FOLIGNO

Afterword by

DAN HOFSTADTER

 

 

Copyright © by Comunione Eredi Curzio Malaparte, Italy Afterword copyright © 2005 by Dan Hofstadter All rights reserved.

 

Malaparte, Curzio, 1898-1957.

World War, 1939-1945— Personal narratives, Italian.

World War, 1939-1945—Europe, Eastern.

War correspondents—Italy—Biography

 

 

 

CONTENTS

KAPUTT

The History of a Manuscript

PART ONE The Horses

I. Du côté de Guermantes

II. Horse Kingdom

III. Ice Horses

PART TWO
The Mice

IV.
God Shave the King

V. Forbidden Cities

VI. The Rats of Jassy

VII. Cricket in Poland

PART THREE
The Dogs

VIII. The Winter Night

IX. Red Dogs

X. Summer Night

PART FOUR
The Birds

XI. The Glass Eye

XII. A Basket of Oysters

XIII.
Of Their Sweet Deaths

XIV. The Soroca Girls

PART FIVE
The Reindeer

XV. Naked Men

XVI. Siegfried and the Salmon

PART SIX
The Flies

XVII. Golf Handicaps

XVIII. Blood

Afterword

 

 

The History of a Manuscript

T
HE
MANUSCRIPT
of
Kaputt
has a tale of its own, and it seems to me that the secret history of the manuscript is the most appropriate preface for the book. I began
Kaputt
in the summer of 1941—at the beginning of the German war against Russia—in the village of Pestchanka in the Ukraine, in the home of a Russian peasant, Roman Suchena. Every morning I sat in the garden under an acacia tree and worked while Suchena, squatting on the ground by the pig sty, sharpened his scythe or chopped beets and cabbages for the pigs. The garden adjoined the House of the Soviets which was occupied at this time by a detachment of Hitler's SS men. Whenever an SS trooper came near the hedge, Suchena gave a warning cough.

The thatched-roof hut with its mud and straw walls plastered with ox dung was small and clean-, its only luxuries were a radio, a gramophone and a small library of the complete works of Pushkin and Gogol. This was the home of an old peasant whom three five-year plans and collective farming had freed from the bonds of misery, ignorance and filth. The son of Roman Suchena, a Communist party member, had been a mechanic on the Voroshilov Collective Farm in Pestchanka. He and his wife had worked on the same collective and had followed the Soviet Army with their tractor. She was a silent and gentle girl-, in the evenings, when work in the small field and in the garden was done, she sat under a tree and read Pushkin's
Eugene Onegin
from the special State edition published in Kharkov on the centenary of the great poet's death. She reminded me of Croce's two oldest daughters, Elena and Aida, who used to sit under a heavily laden apple tree in the garden of their summer home in Meana and read Herodotus in the original.

When I had to visit the front, only a couple of miles from Pestchanka, I entrusted the manuscript of
Kaputt
to my friend Roman Suchena who hid it in a hole in the wall of the pig sty When the Gestapo came at last to arrest and expel me from the Ukraine because of the sensation caused by my war dispatches in the
Corriere della Sera
, Suchena's daughter-in-law sewed the manuscript into the lining of my uniform. I will always be grateful to Suchena and his young daughter-in-law for helping me to save my dangerous manuscript from the hands of the Gestapo.

I resumed work on
Kaputt
during my stay in Poland and while on the Smolensk front, in January and February of 1942. When I left Poland for Finland, I carried the pages of the manuscript hidden in the lining of my sheepskin coat. I finished the book, except for the last chapter, during the two years spent in Finland. In the fall of 1942 I returned to Italy on sick leave after a serious illness I had contracted on the Petsamo front in Lapland. At the Templehof Air Field, near Berlin, all passengers were searched by the Gestapo. Fortunately I had not a single page of
Kaputt
on me. Before leaving Finland I had divided the manuscript into three parts-, I gave one part to the Spanish Minister in Helsinki, Count Augustin de Foxá, who was leaving his post to return to the Foreign Ministry in Madrid-, I gave another part to the Secretary of the Romanian Legation in Helsinki, Prince Dinu Cantemir, who was leaving to assume a new post with the Romanian Legation in Lisbon; and I gave the third part to the press attaché of the Romanian Legation in the Finnish capital, Titu Michailescu, who was returning to Bucharest. After a long Odyssey the three parts of the manuscript finally reached Italy, where I hid them in the wall surrounding the woods of my house on Capri, facing the Faraglioni reefs.

My friends de Foxá, Cantemir and Michailescu know how deeply I am indebted to them. Some day I hope to return to Berlin to thank my German friends whose names I still dare not mention, for preserving for several months, at the gravest risk to themselves, the chapters of
Kaputt
that I wrote in Berlin.

In 1943 I was in Finland and, as soon as I heard the news of Mussolini's fall, I flew back to Italy with the manuscript of the final chapters concealed in the double soles of my shoes. Two days after my arrival in Rome, on July 31, I was arrested because I had publicly declared that the German offensive against Italy was imminent and had blamed Badoglio for not taking active steps to meet the danger.

I was not even given time to change my shoes, but was sent just as I was, to the prison of
Regina Coeli
, with which I had become so familiar during the preceding years. The happy fact that I and my manuscript were released from prison is due to the quick intervention of Ambassador Rocco, then Minister of Popular Culture and later Ambassador at Ankara, of General Castellano who met with the Allies to discuss Armistice terms, of Minister Pietromarchi, and of Counselor of the Legation Rulli, then chief of the foreign press section. Once out of prison, I left Rome and sought refuge on Capri where I awaited the arrival of the Allies and where in September, 1943, I finished the last chapter of
Kaputt.

Kaputt
is a horribly gay and gruesome book. Its gruesome gaiety is the most extraordinary spectacle that I have witnessed in the debacle of Europe in the war years. Among the characters in this book War is of secondary importance. I am tempted to say that it serves only as a pretext, but pretexts inevitably belong to the sphere of Destiny. So in
Kaputt
, War is Destiny. It does not appear on the scene in any other way. War is not so much a protagonist as a spectator, in the same sense that a landscape is a spectator. War is the objective landscape of this book. The chief character is
Kaputt
, the gay and gruesome monster. Nothing can convey better than this hard, mysterious German word
Kaputt
— which literally means, "broken, finished, gone to pieces, gone to ruin, " the sense of what we are, of what Europe is—a pile of rubble. But I prefer this
Kaputt
Europe to the Europe of yesterday— and of twenty or thirty years ago. I prefer starting anew, rather than accepting everything as if it were an immutable heritage. Let us hope that the new era will really be new and that writers will enjoy liberty and respect, because Italian literature needs respect as much as it needs liberty I say "let us hope " not because I lack faith in liberty and its benefits—I belong to that group of people who have suffered imprisonment and deportation to the Island of Lipari for their freedom of spirit and their contribution to the cause of liberty—but because we all know how difficult it is in Italy and throughout large sections of Europe to be a human being, and how dangerous it is to be a writer.

May the new era be an era of liberty and respect for everyone— including writers! Only through liberty and respect for culture can Europe be saved from the cruel days of which Montesquieu spoke in the Esprit des lois: "Thus, in the days of fables, after the floods and deluges, there came forth from the soil armed men who exterminated each other."—
B
OOK
XXXII,
C
HAPTER
XXIII.

&
MDASH
;
CURZIO
MALAPARTE

PART ONE
The Horses

I. Du côté de
Guermantes

P
RINCE
Eugene of Sweden stopped in the middle of the room. "Listen," he said.

A sad, yearning wail was swept with the wind through the oaks of Oakhill, the pines of Valdemarsudden Park, from beyond the inlet of the sea stretching as far as Nybroplan, in the heart of Stockholm. It was not the nostalgic sound of the ships' sirens rising from the sea to the harbor, nor the raucous cry of the seagulls,- it was a feminine voice, doleful and distracted.

"It is the horses of the Tivoli, the amusement park opposite the Skansen," said Prince Eugene in a low voice.

We went and stood by the large windows overlooking the park, pressing our foreheads against the windowpanes that were filmed with the blue mist rising from the sea. Three white horses, followed by a little girl in a yellow dress, were limping along the path that slopes down the hill. They passed through a gate to a small beach cluttered with sloops, canoes and fishermen's boats painted green and red.

It was a clear September day of almost springlike softness. Autumn was already reddening the old trees of Oakhill. Large gray ships with huge Swedish flags—a yellow cross on a blue field—painted on their bulwarks, steamed along the inlet onto which juts the headland where stands the Villa Valdemarsudden, the residence of Prince Eugene, brother of King Gustav V of Sweden. Flocks of seagulls screeched their laments, like wailing children. Below, by the docks of Nybroplan and of Strandvägen rocked white steamers that bear the quaint names of villages and islands and that ply back and forth between Stockholm and the islands. Beyond the arsenal a cloud of blue smoke was rising that a darting seagull pierced from time to time with a flash of white. The wind carried the sound of the music played by the little orchestras at Belmannere and Hasselbacken, the shouts of sailors, soldiers, girls and children crowding around acrobats, jugglers and the strolling musicians who hang about the entrance to the Skansen.

Prince Eugene followed the horses with his attentive, affectionate half-closed eyes, his light eyelids traced by green veins. Seen in profile against the tired glow of sunset, his rosy face (the lips rather swollen, greedy, to which his white mustache lent a childlike gentleness, the arched nose, the high forehead crowned with curly white hair, ruffled like that of a newly awakened child) had the medallion-like cast of the Bernadotte. Of the whole Swedish royal family, Prince Eugene is the one who most resembles Napoleon's marshal, the founder of the Swedish dynasty; that clear-cut, sharp, almost hard profile contrasts strangely with the sweetness of his expression, and with the delicate elegance of his mannerisms in talking, smiling and moving his shapely hands, the Bernadotte hands with pale slender fingers. (A few days before I had seen in a shop in Stockholm the designs that King Gustav V embroidered, surrounded by his family and by his most intimate court circle, during the long winter evenings in the Royal Palace designed by Tessin and in the white summer nights in the Castle of Drottningholm—designs with a grace and delicacy of pattern that bring to mind old Venetian, Flemish and French art.)

Prince Eugene does not embroider, he is a painter. His very manner of dressing bespeaks that free and careless Montmartre manner of fifty years ago, when Prince Eugene and Montmartre were both young. He wore a heavy tobacco-colored Harris tweed jacket, of an old-fashioned cut, buttoned high. A knitted tie, twisted like a plait of hair, cast a shadow of a deeper blue on his pale blue shirt with white, faded stripes.

"They go down to the sea every day, at this time," said Prince Eugene in a low voice. In the rosy and sky-blue light of sunset those three white horses, followed by a girl dressed in yellow, were sad and very beautiful. Knee deep in the surf, spreading their manes on their long arched necks, they shook their heads and neighed.

BOOK: Kaputt
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