y late 1949, Italian author Curzio Malaparte (born Kurt Erich Suckert to a German Protestant father in Prato) had settled in Jouy en Josas outside Paris. Determined to see his latest novel “La Pelle” translated into English and published in the United States, he sought assistance from American friends, among them the journalist and political essayist Percy Winner, who then lived in New York City and would later become the Paris-based foreign editor of The New Republic magazine.
Malaparte hoped that “La Pelle,” set in destitute and hedonistic postwar Naples (and first published first as “Le Peau” in France), would rival the success of his previous novel, the 1944 “Kaputt,” which sold briskly. Though it would eventually be published first in the UK and then in the U.S. as “The Skin,” it fell well short of those goals. Nonetheless, Malaparte, giddy from the book’s French success, was convinced even headier days lay ahead when he asked for help. “Even the critics who don’t like me speak of the ‘grandeur’ of the book,” he writes in this self-aggrandizing letter.
The mercurial Malaparte — whose Malaparte pseudonym was an ironic take on Napoleon Bonaparte — was a quixotic figure. Critics saw the one-time Fascist who would later castigate Nazism and join the Italian Communist Party as a traditional Latin opportunist, capricious and self-involved. He spent decades provoking the left, the right, and even the Catholic Church, which banned different works at different times. He also built a modernist villa on his beloved island of Capri (it remains a cultural center).
Malaparte and Winner became friends in the 1920s, as Fascist Italy grew in global prominence. The two men remained in contact well into the Cold War. Winner’s first book, the 1947 novel “Dario: A Fictional Reminiscence” (Harcourt Brace), featured an amoral character named Dario Duvolti, which author Winner modeled on Malaparte.
By the time of his death from lung cancer in 1957, Malaparte, despite mixed opinions about his character, was regarded among the most independent and influential writers of the mid-20th century. He converted to Catholicism hours before his death.
La Maisons des Gardes
Jouy en Josas
(Seine et Oise)
4 November 1949
I wrote you last Saturday and await your response daily. George Slocombe wrote an excellent review. … in the New York Herald Tribune, and speaks of ‘a great piece of writing.’ The criticism, contrary to what I feared, is generally good, full of praise for the book and the art of the writer. I’m sorry if I tell you these things, it’s just to keep you informed. Even the critics who don’t like me speak of the ‘grandeur’ of the book. Sales couldn’t be better: we’re at 28,000 copies. … I am amazed. As you can see, Winner, even at 51 one can remain a child in certain things.
Tomorrow I’m off the Brussels where, according to what I am told on the phone, the bookshop windows are filled with my book, and with my portraits. Ah, notoriety!…
Americans in Paris, or passing through Paris, want to get to know me. …Tomorrow morning I have lunch with Giustiniani, counsel of our Italian embassy, who has assembled a bunch of Americans in front of whom I will have to “parade,” as is the custom….
As soon as you have news from American publishers please tell me. It’s not a matter of wanting answers at all costs, but there is a certain urgency: MacMillan London wants the rights to “La Peau” for England and the United States but I hold out, responding vaguely. That’s why I’m on edge, awaiting your news.
Greetings, dear Winner, and grateful thanks from your, Malaparte.
— Christopher P. Winner