“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.
Surreal, disenchanted, on the edge of amoral, Malaparte broke literary ground for writers from Ryszard Kapuściński 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