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Primo Levi

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Primo Levi

Primo Levi (July 31, 1919 - April 11, 1987) was an Italian chemist and author of memoirs, short stories, poems, and novels. He is best known for his work on the Holocaust, and in particular his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz.

If This is a Man, Levi's book about his experiences in Auschwitz, has been described as one of the most important works of the 20th century.

Contents

Biography

Levi was born in Turin in 1919 into a liberal Jewish family. He graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Turin in 1941.

In 1943, he and a number of comrades took to the countryside and attempted to join the Italian anti-Fascist resistance. Completely untrained for such a venture, he was arrested as a partisan by the occupying German army. When it was discovered that he was Jewish, he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 and spent ten months there before the camp was liberated by the Red Army. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his "shipment," Levi was one of the 20 who left the camps alive.

On returning to Italy, Levi became an industrial chemist at the SIVA chemical factory in Turin. He soon started to write about his experiences in the camp and in his subsequent return home through Eastern Europe, in what would become his two classic memoirs: If This Is a Man (Se Questo e un Uomo) and The Truce (La Tregua) (republished in the U.S, as Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening).

He also wrote two other highly praised memoirs, Moments of Reprieve and The Periodic Table. Moments of Reprieve deals with characters he observed during imprisonment. The Periodic Table is a collection of short pieces, mostly episodes from his life but also two short stories, all related in some way to one of the chemical elements. The ambitious novel If Not Now, When?, which tells the story of a band of Jewish World War II partisans wandering through Russia and Poland, won the distinguished Viareggio and Campiello prizes when it was published in Italy, and made Levi's name internationally known.

His best-known short stories are found in The Monkey's Wrench (1978), a collection of stories about work and workers told by a narrator resembling Levi himself.

Levi retired from his position as manager of SIVA in 1977 to devote himself full-time to writing. The most important of his later works was his final book, The Drowned and the Saved, an analysis of the Holocaust in which Levi explained that though he did not hate the German people for what had happened, he had not forgiven them.

Levi fell to his death in an apparent suicide on April 11, 1987. Some friends and biographers have questioned the suicide verdict [1] (http://www.bostonreview.net/BR24.3/gambetta.html). The question remains a fascinating one to literary critics due to the characteristic mixture of darkness and optimism in Levi's writing. Levi left no suicide note.

Bibliography

Memoirs and essays

  • If This Is a Man (in the U.S., Survival in Auschwitz)
  • The Truce (in the U.S., The Reawakening)
  • Moments of Reprieve
  • The Periodic Table
  • The Drowned and the Saved

Novel

  • If Not Now, When?

Short stories

  • The Wrench (in the U.S., The Monkey's Wrench)

Other works translated into English include:

  • Collected Poems
  • The Mirror Maker
  • The Sixth Day and Other Tales
  • Other People's Trades
  • The Search for Roots: A Personal Anthology
  • The Voice of Memory: Interviews, 1961-1987
  • Conversations with Primo Levi

At least three biographies of Primo Levi in English are now in print:

  • Primo Levi, by Ian Thomson (some editions are subtitled A Life)
  • The Double Bond: Primo Levi : A Biography, by Carole Angier
  • Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist, by Myriam Anissimov

External links

fr:Primo Levi gd:Primo Levi it:Primo Levi nl:Primo Levi he:פרימו_לוי

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