The first English edition of this surrealist study of Russia's Communist "aristocracy," which arose after the revolution and ultimately tumbled into Stalin's Great Terror, first published after the Italian writer's death in 1957.
Malaparte's talents as a writer include his acid wit and an eye for detail. In his hands, the higher levels of Soviet society prove just as ridiculous and corrupt as the aristocratic societies of Europe. The tennis matches, affairs, scandals and society gossip that define court life in Europe are conducted in Moscow, however, in a pervasive atmosphere of fear ... Malaparte's sense of humor is pitiless, memorably referring to Lenin's embalmed corpse as a 'precious crustacean.' Kremlin Ball is a terrifically funny and entertaining portrait of a seemingly powerful group of people dancing on the brink of destruction.
Like George Orwell, Malaparte is not necessarily rejecting collectivist ideals outright, but as a keen observer of people he sees that human beings tend to be self-destructive, no matter what kind of government ideals they claim to be working toward. No one is innocent or idealized for Malaparte. This kind of even-handed criticism, combined with Malaparte’s journalistic style and his interactions with the most important people in Russia’s government and arts scene of the late 1920s, give The Kremlin Ball the feel of a salacious, courtly tell-all. Malaparte does not let anyone off the hook, and it seems that everyone who is anyone gets mentioned ... The use of magical realism emphasizes the grotesque hellishness of Marxist society as Malaparte encountered it. While the philosophical questions of the novel revolve around human nature and whether there is any capacity/potential for real revolution, the reader also wonders exactly which elements of Malaparte’s narrative are 'real' and which are hyperbole ... I am not convinced that Malaparte is always joking about those fictions, but his ability to see them all simultaneously in play is what makes his writing intriguing and historically convincing ... in moments of cultural destitution, the way out is hope in an alternative vision.
A Dantean account of a young Marxist visiting Stalinist Russia, it is, like his previous novels, surreal and quasi-journalistic ... Malaparte’s acerbic worldview, captured in his dark observations about the Soviet elite, make any claim to optimism seem suspect. There are Goncourt-style accounts of embassy balls and rides with grotesque dignitaries in decrepit carriages. When he is not documenting the anemic characters that populate this world, our hero walks the streets of the city ... There is certainly less shock value in The Kremlin Ball than in Malaparte’s other works (no cannibalism, pedophilia, or orgies). Instead, the novel invokes Dostoevsky in its attention to the fatalism at the heart of Russian society. In communism, Malaparte sees a system that obliges Russians to suffer for others while disempowering the people. This turns the populace into something like zombies, and makes Moscow society 'the mirror image of European society but dominated by fear.'