POISED OVER A ROCKY promontory jutting into the azure Mediterranean, few houses are as breathtakingly sited as the Casa Malaparte. For the location of his home, the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte chose what he called the
wildest, loneliest, and most visually spectacular part of Capri, the part which directly faces the south and the east, where the island’s civilization gives way to untamed wilderness, and where Nature manifests itself with unparalleled brute force […] a place that is only suitable for the strong and free-spirited.
Harsh winds buffet the house’s blood red façade and waves crash onto it in stormy weather, washing over the roof terrace atop which Brigitte Bardot once cavorted. In recent years, this architectural masterpiece has undergone intensive restoration and is now gaining new recognition along with Malaparte’s prodigious literary output.
Perhaps more than any modern author, Malaparte intimately experienced and chronicled the carnage of the 20th century. He ran away from home at age 16 to fight in World War I, and then went on to become a diplomat, novelist, journalist, political agitator, and lifelong maverick. Dashingly handsome and self-aggrandizing, he was a swashbuckling chameleon who started out as a nationalist, turned fascist and later supported Stalin and Mao before a deathbed conversion to Catholicism. During the 1930s, he consorted with the smart set surrounding Mussolini’s foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano and conducted an affair with the widowed mother of Fiat’s future chief, the industrialist Gianni Agnelli, decades before finding an affinity for Maoism.
Malaparte called the island abode he built on Capri between 1938 and 1942 “a portrait in stone,” “a house like me.” But, which me? Indeed, there were many Malapartes. He died in 1957, bequeathing the house to the People’s Republic of China. However, the Italian government and Malaparte’s heirs successfully contested the will, and the property belongs now to his great nephew, Niccolo Rositani Suckert.
I stayed there for a few days last summer as the guest of Suckert and his wife Alessia, who also manages Malaparte’s literary estate. “What is written in books is often incorrect and I think that it is impossible to understand the house if you don't experience it,” Alessia wrote to me before I arrived.
She was right: the place is part palace, part temple, part prison. Malaparte started construction on it soon after being released from jail for running afoul of Mussolini. He ended up incarcerated in 1933 on the island of Lipari off Sicily. Having internalized a sense of confinement as a result, he called himself “the bird that swallowed its cage,” a phrase that the Academy Award winning film editor Walter Murch has chosen as the title for his newly published compendium of Malaparte’s writings.
Malaparte, a loner with a penchant for periodic hobnobbing with the wellborn and well-connected, was given to self-dramatization, and he built himself a strangely exhibitionistic stage for the solitary life of a writer. Even today, though it is set well apart from the glitzy town center of Capri with its day-tripping tourists, wealthy Italian holiday-makers and shops touting Prada and Bulgari, Malaparte’s house practically screams for attention on the island's jagged ...read more