Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte


Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte

Italian Novel

Original title – Kaputt

Translator – Cesare Foligno

Source – personal copy

Now, it is a nice coincidence that my last read for NYRB fortnight happens to tale in with the 1944 club that officially starts tomorrow. There is a lot of talk recently about Autofiction being a trend but it has been around for years and here is a perfect example of Autofction. Curzio Malaparte was an Italian writer he was sent by an Italian paper to cover the eastern front. This book is what he observed and is an account of the inner workings of the Germans and how they were in eastern Europe during the final years of the war as he saw the end was near.

During the summer of 1941 i was in Pestchanka, a village in the Ukraine, and one morning I went to visit a large Kolkhoz close by  the village; the Kolkhoz Voroshilov. The Russians had left Pestchanka just two days before. It was the largest and richest Kolkhoz I had ever seen . Everything was left in perfect order but the cattle shed and stables were empty; there was not agrain of wheat in the granges, not a blade of hay in the lofts. A horse was limping  around the farmyard; it was old , blind and lame. At the end of the yard, under a long shed, were ranged hundreds upon hundreds of agricultural machines , mostly of Soviet manufacture, but many were Hungarian and some were Italian, germans , swedish and American. The retreating russian had not set fire to the Kolkhoz, to the ripe crops, or to the forest of sunflowers seeds.

He shows how the Russians didn’t leave behind ruins when the Germans taken over the countryside.

The book starts as the reporter at the center of the story is in Sweden after spending time in Finland this is a reporter with connections as the opening page sees him in the company of a Swedish prince. Then he is sent to Ukraine where he first sees the brutal side of the \german forces. this is based around real events he saw in 1941 in Ukraine. Then in the Balkans, as he goes around he chronicles the brutal and violent nature of the Germans and their views of the people whose countries they have occupied.as the book moves on he starts to see the cracks in the German regime. When Leningrad happened it seems in this as it proved a turning point. One of the hardest scenes in the book is where he is shown around the Ghetto and how proud the Germans were of this but he shows how there were so many people living in such a small space. This is a glimpse behind the lines of world war two and the Nazi when they were still at the top but the downfall had started by the end of the book.

The German soldiers returning from the front line, when they reached the village squares, dropped their rifles on the ground in silence. They were coated from head to foot in black mud, their beards were long, their hollow eyes looked like the eyes looked like the eyes of the sunflowers, blank and dull. The officers gazed at the soldiers and at the rifles lying on the ground, and kept silent. By then the lightning war, the blitzkrieg, was over, te Dreigjahrigerblitzkrieg, the thirty year lightning war had begun. The winning war was over, the losing war had begun.

Malaparte sees the war turning in the face of the soldiers returning from the front.

This is one of those books I wasn’t sure I would like to read Malaparte himself is a questionable character. But he did manage to get inside the German regime and see far more than many other people did the inner workings from the Generals and leaders hobnobbing it and living it largely to those in charge of the Ghetto, those SS troops and the horror of what was happening to the Jews and others around Eastern Europe. Through the disdain, the troops on the ground felt as the war was turning near the end of the book. What makes this readable is the way Malaparte describes the world and the is unblinkered in the full horror of what he was seeing. You feel the decay decadence sheer horror of this world where the people were turning a blind eye to the horrors or saw what they were doing as normal. Malaparte used his own experience in this novel and he used them to make the episodic nature of the book it has no real plot as such just follows a narrator as he observes the places he is sent to and the people he meets. The cover is also wonderfully creepy. This is a great example of Autofiction and makes some of the modern versions seem pale in comparison.

Her Father’s daughter by Marie Sizun

Her Father’s daughter by Marie Sizun

French Fiction

Original Title – Le Pere de la petite

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

Well I have another choice for woman in translation month and this is from one of my all time favourite publishers Peirene press ,  they also publish my favourite book by a female writer in Translation Stones in a landslide. So every book by them is usually a gem. Marie Sizun is an example to every one that it is never to late to start writing she taught literature for many years but it wasn’t till she turn 65 and this her first novel came ou in French. She has since written Seven novels and a Memoir.

It’s a winter afternoon in the kitchen of the apartment. They’re both there, the mother standing doing her ironing, a tall figure, and beside her the little girl, sitting in her special chair. They’re not talking at the moment. the child is thinking about what her mother has just said. On the radio a few minutes ago there was some news, news about the war , as usual. When the announcement ended, her mother switched off the radio and still ironing, said something like “your poor little daddy “… or perhaps ” When your poor little daddy comes home ” … offhand like that.

The later is the truth her world is about to change .

There is a memoir feel in my view to this book given that Marie her self was born in 1940 the story in Her father’s daughter which sees a little girl she her world shift after her father arrives home after the second world war. We see the pre father time when in their small apartmnet the child called France is the centre of the mother’s world as she is called My darling by the mother. Of course the world shifts once the father is back in the fold and the child feels as thou she has lost her position in the world to the father. To her the Father was a mythic being in a way having not seen her till she was four and this is what she wants him to become again. As sh opens up to the father a secret is revealed and this will yet again change the dynamics of this relationships.

The child may now have a father but, on the other hand, she might as well no longer have a mother. Because as if by magic her mother is reduced to being a docile wife to her husband, his sweetheart, his servant. Perhaps she no longer feels like it . Beside, indications have been made that she should limit her displays of affection towards her daughter, she should stop sitting her on her lap as she used to, and stop using any excuse to address her with that idiotic “my darling”

The world she knew is about to collapse around her when her father wants to change her relationship with Mum.

What Marie Sizun has done is taken a story that happened a hundred times in a hundred places around the world at this time and that is the return of the lost father figure to the family fold and the child France point of view is told and that is one many children would have had at the time the one of wanting to reject the father figure and for the house to return to normal. Marie Sizun has captured the world so well through a childs eye that innocent way of seeing the world before our thoughts get to grey where we see the world in black and white and in good and evil. Another gem from Peirene and another great book for Woman in translation month . Next time I will be in Argentina and another world war two touched tale.

Have you a favourite book about family returning home  ?

The notebook by Agota Kristof


The Notebook by Agota Kristof

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Le grand Cahier

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personnel copy




“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 

Source  Nelson Mandela 


Well I’m back after a couple of weeks and have decide to start with one of those books we al have read and the second we put it down would happily read it again a real breath taking novel .Agota Kristof is a writer a bit like this blog that covered Europe in her life itself .She came from Hungary ,but escaped just to become an exile in the 1950’s in Switzerland .She start to write in french at the age of 51 after studying french ,this book came out in 1986 originally .It won the Austrian lit prize as I say a write like this blog that in her life spent time all round Europe .The notebook (or grand notebook in french although that means slightly more in the french ) was the first of what became a trilogy of novels the other two are called The proof and The third lie .

We call her grandmother

People call her the witch ,She calls us “sons of bitch ” .Grandmother is small thin .She has a black shawl on her head .Her clothes are dark grey ,she wear old army shoes ,When it’s fine ,she walks barefoot .Her face is covered in wrinkles ,brown spots and warts with hair growing out of them .She has no teeth left ,at least none that can be seen

Their first impression of the grandmother isn’t great .

The notebook is the story of two children Twin brothers  ,who just before the outbreak of world war two are left in a small village with the Grandmother .Now this book is their account of this time from the war to the Soviets taking over after the war .We see the world through their eyes but also the cruellness  of this world .The grandmother isn’t bother about them and takes the money their parents send for herself .Now this village has a wonderful collection of oddball character a cobbler that helps them out because he hates the Witch as their grandmother is known within the village ,A sad girl with a horrific harelip ,who just wants to be loved but finds it in all the wrong places especially in one eye-opening scene in the book ,An officer that very cruely treats the twins .The booys quickly learn that to get what they want and to survive the shifting worlkd they are caught in as we see what we may assume is Hungary (we aren’t actually told ) but could be anyone of half-dozen countries that are caught first by the Germans and then as the war is ending the Soviets overrun the country and bring the communist system in .

We put on dirty ,torn clothes ,take off our shoes ,dirty our faces and hands .We go out into the street ,we stop and wait .

When a foreign officer comes by ,we raise our right hands to salute him and hold out our left hands.usually the officer walks on without seeing us ,without looking at us .

They beg from the Armies in the village as they pass by as they get so little from their grandmother .

Now the beauty of this book is the voice of the two brothers ,it just comes across as such a real childlike voice ,it is hard to capture how children speak and think probably for me Andres Neuman recently caught it well in talking to ourselves  ,like that book this is about how the kids see their world ,we as the reader naturally fill in the blanks between Kristof words .She shows the brutal nature of war through a child’s eyes so time and place even at times which army it is are missed just that the war is happening .Kristof also capture in the Harelipped girls story a broken person scrapping by in the world as the boys try to get to know her by first learning this girl’s horrific way of finding love .This is the second book by CB editions I have read this year and they are a publisher I will be looking closer at the back catalogue to find if they have anymore gems their . My first entry for women in translation month 

Have you read this book ?

September 2021


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