This is a horror novel.

This is a book about a horror lurking in the heart of the 20th century. Not “the” horror. Just “a” horror. Because that’s just how bad the 20th century was.

Curzio Malaparte was born Kurt Eric Suckert and he was a fascist right from the beginning of fascism. Huge admirer of Mussolini. Such a huge admirer that Mussolini had him thrown in jail for being such an extreme fascist. Due to his contacts among both the Italian nobility and the Italian government, he was released but sent into a kind of exile as a journalist covering the Eastern Front for Corriere della Sera, the Milan daily newspaper. This book comes out of what he saw during World War 2.

Is this book fiction?

Is this book non-fiction?

Does it fucking matter?

But, yeah, fuck Stephen King. Fuck Thomas Liggotti. Fuck Caitlin Kiernan. They write the best horror novels/stories but when I want a real horror story, I read Kaputt.

For real horror, I read the part of this book that’s about the dinner with Reichminister Frank, Governor General and self proclaimed king of Poland, his wife, and assorted hangers-on in the Imperial Palace in Wroclaw, Poland. A scene of horror as painted by Grosz, as Malaparte says. Power and death, pitiless and fully in the hands of imbecilic boors with grease on their lips. Grease from the fatty foods that are displayed on the table, each course brought out from the kitchen and displayed. And the true skeleton at the feast, the escapee from the House of Usher, the figure that makes Malaparte feel fear rather than contempt. The Gestapo officer at the far end of the table. That’s horror. That’s scary. That’s horrific. That’s really good writing.

And I read the part about the horses frozen into Lake Lagoda while trying to escape a Finnish attack on a Soviet artillery column. The horses look like hell’s own carousel. That’s what I go to when I want really good writing.

The visit to the Warsaw ghetto. The venison dinner afterwards with officials of the Third Reich. Point. Counterpoint. The afternoon spent with Prince Eugene of Sweden and the horses of Tivoli and the memories of the Italian nobility he has known. The memories of war in the Ukraine and the plain of dead men and dead machines. Point. Counterpoint.

That’s the form of the book. He meets some noble that he knows: a count, a Hohenzollern princess. They greet him by name. They talk about like during wartime. And then he tells them a story. A story about what he’s seen. A horror story.

The surreal drinking party in Finland, the suicidal German soldiers, the Alpenjaegers, who have been driven mad by the endless forests of Lapland, and Himmler naked in a sauna.

What they see when they open the freight train car door in Iasi, Romania. Why there’s only a baby left alive in that freight car. Why is it a snide star-fucker Italian wannabe aristo who brings us these images, these truths? The heart of the 20th century.

This book ends with the Boschian scenes in the caverns underneath Naples where people have gathered to wait out the Allied bombing of the city. The deformed driven from the refuge of their homes, a mob of monsters. The soup kitchens, the births, the prayers, all the while bombs drop on to the city above.

Malaparte is the master of the ironic turn of phrase. The armor of cynicism, he pulls it close around himself.

Read this book. Read Nixonland. And you’ll start drinking as much as I do to make the 20th century hurt as little as possible.

ford cover

This is a collection of a zine created, written, arted, put together by Laura Oldfield Ford that chronicles her travels through and stories about London 2005 – 2009 with memory jaunts back to the 80s and 90s and up to the dystopian future of 2013.

In a way, reading it reminded me of reading the Beverly Cleary books as a kid. The state and place of my fucked up childhood made me approach those books with the eye of an amateur anthropologist. “Tell me of these things called suburbs. Show me how children have neighborhood friends.” In the case of Savage Messiah, I’m a dweller in the post-urban ahistorical sprawl of Los Angeles. So Oldfield shows me what it’s like to live and move in an old, layered, compact city. A city where you can move around on foot and discover all the hidden ways, the forgotten paths, the overgrown lots in the middle of one of the world’s modern capitals.

She stands at the opposite psychogeographical pole from Iain Sinclair, the other chronicler of the streets of London. He’s established, an old guy. He’s got books, columns, appearances in documentaries. He’s a face. Oldfield’s just a young person wandering the streets and paths of London, from squat to rave to demo to couch. And always watched by the cameras and the cops and the cops with cameras. The pall of surveillance and power drapes her every movement and it’s a testament to her skills as a flaneuse that she can sometimes find the hidden and forgotten ways and places to take her out from underneath that oppression. She has nothing but the precarity of all those her age.

Using nothing more than collaged photos, sketches, and text laid out skewed in chunks over the images, she evokes her London with a skill that makes the reader feels the streets, the heat, fugged out pubs, the rush of the drugs coming on as the DJ drops the beat.ford03

I first ran across a mention of this collection in Greil Marcus’ Rock and Roll Top Ten (and I pay special attention to anything he says, one of the most influential writers in my life), and the Mark Fisher wrote about Laura Oldfield Ford and Savage Messiah in his collection, Ghosts Of My Life.

Overgrown old brick buildings, canals, the hidden, unknown, forgotten parts of London. The parts that have avoided the commercial neoliberal rebuilding of London into a plastic city. And walking, always walking (again, no one walks in LA). A city revealing its secrets to the pedestrian, the pedestrian who’s fleeing the fears and pressures of the precarious life.

Ballardian collages of parking lots, brutalist tower blocks, and courtyards. Mainly empty. She chooses her shots so that there are very few or no people on the streets, on the stairs, on the estates, in the hallways, in the doorways. The presence of people come from the sketched portraits pasted, taped, glued over the photos. Laying claim to the abandoned territory. Ghosts.

Alleys, back streets, the gaps in the fences, all the hidden ways known to only the few. All illuminated in the orange sodium glare of the streetlights, the glowing urban night sky (tuned to a dead channel? loglo?).

And the trees. And the bushes. And the vines. The lushness of these hidden places, lush and green and growing even in the black and white photos. Another ford01difference between here and there. Urban jungle vs desert sprawl. Again, showing me different ways, places that people live.

The pictures and sketches frame stories of the lives in these places. People going from pub to apartment to party. Bad decisions made in bad boozers because there are no good decisions to be made. But at least those bad decisions give a person a momentary freedom. People trying to live their lives, trying to figure out how to live their lives, bashing up against the bars.

Stories of the past. Past struggles: riots, demonstrations, all in the past. Past events: raves, gatherings, parties, industrial gigs blasting noise out of the all important and necessary sound systems, speaker stacks. The reverberations still echo in the streets, in the abandoned buildings, in the estate courtyards where the ghost noises bounce off the concrete buildings.

Use Savage Messiah as a map. Ford’s the cartographer making the map become the territory because she brings it to life. Keeps the city alive in our minds. She makes sure that this city and these people who live in it will never die because they’ll never be forgotten.
Next up: Injection Vol. 2 by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire.


Adam Minter’s dad was a scrap dealer. His grandfather and grandmother ran a junkyard. It’s in his blood. And in this fantastic book, he lays out the networks of the global 21st century junk trade.
If you have any interest in how goods move around the world, in the hidden drivers of world commerce, any interest in the growth of China, this book is invaluable.
In one part of the book, Adam follows around a Chinese scrap buyer who’s traveling throughout the US, going from scrap yard to scrap yard, buying containers of metal and shipping them back to China. Based on what the buyer and his partner pay for the scrap, the global price of copper feels it, given how many containers of copper scrap, bales of Christmas tree light wire, are shipped back to China.
Another interesting factoid that I gleaned from book had to do with the cost of shipping. Because of the trade imbalance between China and the US, shipping companies run the risk of having ships sail partially empty from the US to China. So those companies give a really steep discount to anyone shipping bulk from the US to China. This works in the scrap dealers’ favor.
This is also the story of the innovators and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Pacific who are coming up with new ways, new ideas, new machines to sort through the scrap in order to make as much money as possible from things that have been thrown away.
A well-written and fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the world economy.
Highest recommendation.