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What VM Staffers Are Reading This Week

From time to time on the blog we plan to highlight a new feature: short summaries of the books VM staff writers are reading and thinking about. This week Peter Mellgard (@PeterMellgardAI), who covers the Middle East and Asia, talks about an old and uncelebrated book about WWII.

Kaputt is a dark and haunting tale written by Kurt Erich Suckert, an Italian journalist in WWII Europe. Suckert, who goes by the pen name Curzio Malaparte, was a disaffected former Mussolini supporter who was sent by an Italian newspaper to cover the fighting on the eastern front. The stories in Kaputt, some true, some not, portray a once-glamorous Europe consumed by the absurd cruelty of the war. The stories proceed in no particular order, and every scene is tinged with gruesome barbarity. The characters include kings and princesses, German officers and starving, hopeless villagers; the scenery is beautiful and bleak: from snow-covered Finland to an empty Ukrainian battlefield to the warm halls of the German elite enjoying the spoils of war amid endless destruction.

Malaparte wrote Kaputt, which he describes as a “horribly gay and gruesome book,” in stages, and smuggled sections of the manuscript back to Italy with the help of friends and sympathizers. A particularly horrible and memorable scene features Malaparte at dinner with Reichsminister Frank, Governor-General of Poland, or, as he describes himself, der deutsche König von Polen. “I wield the power of life and death over the Polish people, but I am not the King of Poland,” Frank declares. “They are a proud and dignified people,” replies Malaparte. “And you are their master. A foreign master.” “A German master,” says Frank. “They do not deserve the honor of having a German master.” “True,” Malaparte says, “they do not deserve it.”

There really could be no other title for this book than Kaputt, as Malaparte writes in the introduction, which in German means, “broken, finished, gone to pieces, gone to ruin.”

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  • Jack Ayer

    There’s a heavy air of fraud that hangs over Kaputt. Malaparte has a Jayson-Blair-like, a Stephen-Glass-like, knack for being at the right place, the right time, on hand to spot the bizarre or unexpected wrinkle that everyone else seems to have missed. Couple that with an unpleasant obliviousness to the fact that it is a war he (pretends to be) watching, not an entertainment for his delectation and self-promotion.

    • Andrew Allison

      Perhaps the VM staff writers should be introduced to the Great Books. It might eliminate some of the adolescent nonsense which occasionally appears here.

      • Corlyss

        Oh, Andrew!
        Your pithy, pomposity-puncturing posts at your very best! Amen.
        Where can I contribute to the fund to send at least one of the kids to the Great Books program?

  • tarentius

    Uncelebrated and worthy of it.

  • JDogg Snook

    Kaputt comes from Yiddish, not German.

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