The Kremlin Ball [Il ballo al Kremlino]
(post. 1971; 2018, New York Review Books Classics Original)
by Curzio Malaparte (1898-1957)
Translated by Jenny McPhee
Translator Jenny McPhee (NYU) in conversation with Franco Baldasso (Bard)
Perhaps only the impeccably perverse imagination of Curzio Malaparte could have conceived of The Kremlin Ball, which might be described as Proust in the corridors of Soviet power. The book is set at the end of the 1920s, when the Great Terror may have been nothing more than a twinkle in Stalin’s eye, but when the revolution was accompanied by a growing sense of doom. In Malaparte’s vision it is from his nightly opera box, rather than the Kremlin, that Stalin surveys Soviet high society, its scandals and amours and intrigues among beauties and bureaucrats, including the legendary ballerina Marina Semyonova and Olga Kameneva, a sister of the exiled Trotsky, who though a powerful politician is so consumed by dread that everywhere she goes she gives off the smell of rotting meat. This extraordinary court chronicle of Communist life (for which Malaparte also contemplated the title God Is a Killer) was published posthumously and appears now in English for the first time.
Malaparte may just be the original postmodernist, at least as far as genre-crossing is concerned…A head-swirling kaleidoscope that, though fictional, is never for a moment fictitious.
Surreal, disenchanted, on the edge of amoral, Malaparte broke literary ground for writers from Ryszard Kapuscinski to Joseph Heller.
—Frederika Randall, The Wall Street Journal
Malaparte enlarged the art of fiction in more perverse, inventive, and darkly liberating ways than one would imagine possible, long before novelists like Philip Roth, Robert Coover, and E. L. Doctorow began using their own and other people’s histories as Play-Doh.
A scrupulous reporter? Probably not. One of the most remarkable writers of the twentieth century? Certainly.