Navigating the first half of Italy’s twentieth century took elasticity. There were few more elastic than Curzio Malaparte (1898–1957), author of The Skin (La Pelle, 1949), a novel of which the first English-language “unexpurgated” version is being released by New York Review Books this autumn. Malaparte was a fascist, and then he was not. He flirted with Communism, and then he did not. A protestant by baptism, an atheist by choice, he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, but in his will left the house he had built on Capri, the most beautiful in the world some said—his “Casa Come Me”—to the Chinese Communist Party. He was a writer of great, if unreliable, talent. He was a soldier, diplomat, moviemaker, duelist, agitator, provocateur, and dandy. A famously successful Romeo, his only true loves were his dog Febo and, above all, himself.

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