Malaparte, Curzio. “Diary of a Foreigner in Paris”, translated by Stephen Twilley, NYRB Classics, 2020.
Among the Famous
With Stephen Twilley’s brilliant translation of Curzio Malaparte’s “Diary of a Foreigner in Paris, we are taken back to postwar Europe and meet famous characters and we read of the restlessness in Paris after the war had ended.
Malaparte returned to Paris in 1947 for the first time in fourteen years. He had been condemned by Mussolini to five years in exile but when he was released he was repeatedly imprisoned. During the intervals when he was free, he had been dispatched as a journalist to the Eastern Front, and even though though many of his reports from Poland and Ukraine were censored, he used his experiences as a basis for his writing. Returning to France where he had always treated well, he became a celebrity of sorts something of a star.
Keeping a diary while in Paris, he wrote about his meetings with ramous people including Jean Cocteau and Albert Camus. As Malaparte reflects on his life and the temper of the time, he is ambiguously humorous while exposing his life to the world. He was eccentric to a degree and French found him to be strange and a puzzle. In fact his odd behavior became grounds of persecution when he goes to Austria.
Malaparte’s writing flows freely; yet he constantly had to struggle with his own experiences under fascism. He was able to find his way back into Paris’s Bohemian elite and was fueled with vigor. His life was something of an odyssey with his moving from place to place. He was able to be in the right place with the right people. In his wonderful prose, he is an observer of those people around him and his description of them are stunning. While his nature and position in culture remain questionable, he is nonetheless fascinating.
Malaparte was born in Prato at the end of the 19th century. He enlisted in the Garibaldi Legion during World War I and fought alongside French troops. When the war ended, he remained attracted to violence and published two books that denounced the political class’s handling of the conflict, He was attracted to the Fascist Party movement led by Benito Mussolini and in 1924, he threw his weight behind Mussolini and openly spoke about the virtues of fascism as editor of the powerful newspaper “La Stampa”. In a misconceived effort to take down the fascist minister of the air force, Italo Balbo, Malaparte was exiled to the island of Lipari.
When he was freed from exile, he rejoined Mussolini’s regime until it fell and Mussolini was executed. He then joined the Allied forces and reported on the battles for the communist newspaper “L’Unità”.
Most of Malaparte’s life in Paris was not good. The Left Bank was not the best of places for a former Italian fascist and it was no secret that he was in Paris to avoid arrest or worse in Italy. He was surprised by the reception of the French and he wrote of his many humiliations. It often seemed that the intelligentsia of Paris disliked him.
Malaparte was a compulsive liar who played with ideas and went in the opposite direction of others. However, he cannot be tossed aside. He did go the places that he said he did and his stories were only partial lies.