Essay

When Malaparte Met Mao

Anatomy of a fellow traveller – Frank Beyer

In 1956 the Italian novelist, Curzio Malaparte, received an invitation to travel to Beijing for a commemoration of the death of writer Lu Xun. Malaparte is most famous for his quasi-surrealist WWII novels, Kaputt and La Pelle (The Skin). In Kaputt, as a journalist and officer in the Italian army, he narrates what happened behind the Eastern Front. Episodes from Ukraine, Finland, Romania and Poland get us up close and personal with, amongst others, members of the Nazi elite. Malaparte seems to revel in the horrific subject matter, showing the abuses and hypocrisies of the Axis forces like no other. In The Skin he is a liaison officer attached to the American army, taking us on a Dantesque tour of the hell that is Naples after Allied liberation. He exposes the naivety of the Americans and the damage done to the already miserable local population.

Malaparte was a keen observer, who did not shy away from making criticisms. Why then, on his trip to China, was he so charmed by everything? Did he leave his critical faculties back in Europe?