Not a reportage from within Nazi Germany, but instead a secret memoir of a reporter who becomes increasingly more and more disillusioned with Fascist Italy. It’s hard to place a modern morality on Malaparte’s position in this book except to say he’s risking everything to write this book. It was published in 1944, and he smuggled it on his body repeatedly through his travels around the warfront. He also does spend time in an Italian prison afterward. So his closeness to the information (there’s a scene where he’s standing there uncomfortably as Himmler has a sinister and joking conversation around him). But the value of his book is impossible to deny.
I think a lot about how well books are able to capture a true zeitgeist. I don’t just mean getting the feel of a time correctly, but to really capture what it would have felt like to be a living person, living a life within the time, and I think this book helps to build our understanding of what it meant to be someone within the confines of Axis Europe, without being a complete outsider, a direct antagonist, or something else. This is someone who ostensibly belonged (or was certainly perceived as belonging) so there’s a clear in-group quality about this book. Again, Malaparte, as a figure in the book, is NOT writing a hagiography, or a neutral observer. He’s exhibiting a kind of double consciousness throughout the book, which is terrifying. He, maybe a little too self-congratulatingly, sees himself a little like Proust, really capturing the time and people, and there’s something to that, but this reads like an almost post-lapserian Stefan Zweig.