Thursday, February 26, 2015

Coincidental Reading

The other week, I picked up a copy of Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte from Kramerbooks. Some days later, when I was about halfway through Kaputt, I happened to pull The Ice Age, by Margaret Drabble, off the shelf here. I opened it at random, but then quickly found what I had half remembered, a passage running
After that, Anthony found Tim's stories increasingly dull and increasingly unreal. He had never gone much for the theory that good storytellers never have any respect for the truth; on the contrary he tended to think that only the truth could possibly be interesting. However dull the truth, it was more interesting than a fantasy. Anthony began to evolve for himself, while listening to Tim, a new theory: that bores are not necessarily people who talk too much, or who talk too much about themselves, they are people who do not tell the truth, either about others or about themselves.
 And that is one of my objections to Kaputt, that Malaparte weaves fictions around real persons and presents them as if he were writing memoir or history. That would make for uncomfortable reading, even were the events indifferent, or the other parties to the conversations of little fame. But when the other parties are Hans Frank, Himmler and Antele Pavelic, and the events are pogroms in Romania or murders farther east, the discomfort intensifies. Dan Hofstadter's afterword to the book makes just this point
... but the waffling between genres, the implausibility, the scant regard for fact--all grow more and more troubling as they come to bear on the most terrible atrocities of the last century. Readers have a right to feel puzzled, and to wonder what merit a book may have that values the truth so lightly.

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