cover image The Kremlin Ball

The Kremlin Ball

Curzio Malaparte, trans. from the Italian by Jenny McPhee. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-68137-209-9

Appearing for the first time in English is Malaparte’s strange, aimless, and impassioned skewering of the decadence and hypocrisy of the “Marxist nobility,” the paradoxical haute-proletariat society of 1920s Russia. Readers see Stalin never missing a ballet starring the famed Marina Semyonova, and Trotsky’s sister Madame Kamenev and the writer Mikhail Bulgakov meditating on humanity’s endless suffering. In Malaparte’s telling, the supposed revolutionaries are obsessed with the French fashion designer Schiaparelli, chocolates from “the famous Fuchs of Warsaw,” and gossip. While Malaparte’s morbid glee in describing Lenin’s preserved body as a “precious crustacean” or the revolutionary hero Karakhan as little more than “a fabulous tennis player” is infectious, the numerous French bon mots from Russian party functionaries and German newspaper correspondents mean little to a contemporary reader. Malaparte described this work as “a novel in the Proustian sense,” recounting “the tragic sunset of a revolutionary society” before Stalin’s purges began in earnest. He is halfway successful; the tragedy of a utopian ideal betrayed by human foible and vanity is certainly timeless, but, unlike Proust’s work, this one doesn’t quite recapture a lost time. (Mar.)