Advertisement

On the Dangers of Reading Suicide into the Works of Primo Levi

  • Jonathan Druker
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)

Abstract

When, on April 11, 1987, Primo Levi died an untimely death, an apparent suicide, his readers around the world were deeply shocked because among Holocaust survivor-writers Levi was considered one of the most hopeful and even-tempered. In order to shed light on the unfamiliar hell of the Nazi concentration camps, he utilized his professional background in chemistry and brought to bear a detached, scientific precision. His memoir of ten months in a death camp, Survival in Auschwitz, records the tragedies that occurred there without introducing the self-pity or rage that would be completely justified by the circumstances. As a narrator, his emotions are purposefully subordinated to the task of credibly witnessing a series of unimaginable events. Levi and the other men who lived and died with him in the camp were robbed of every human dignity, and his unflinching memoir documents all of this very thoroughly; but it also records bright moments of human solidarity in a world so harsh that generosity toward a fellow inmate could be very costly, even fatal. Overall, Levi’s books are marked by a profound sense of obligation to the victims and also to future generations who run the risk of repeating the errors of the past. He considered the Holocaust to be a fundamental event replete with urgent moral and historical lessons that fill his thoughtful pages.

Keywords

Literary Production Holocaust Survivor Moral Courage Early Book Constructive Response 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 3.
    Three biographies discuss in detail Levi’s depression and the circumstances of his death: Myriam Anissimov, Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist (New York: Overlook, 1999)Google Scholar
  2. Carole Angier, The Double Bond, Primo Levi: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)Google Scholar
  3. and Ian Thomson, Primo Levi (New York: Random House, 2002).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, trans. Stuart Woolf (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 130.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Cited in Anthony Rudolf, At an Uncertain Hour: Primo Levi’s War against Oblivion (London: Menard Press, 1990), 38.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 70–87.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    James Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 127.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Primo Levi, La ricerca delle radici (Turin: Einaudi, 1981), 211.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Primo Levi, Other People’s Trades, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit, 1989), 173.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Harold Kaplan, Conscience and Memory: Meditations in a Museum of the Holocaust (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 140.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Cynthia Ozick, Metaphor and Memory (New York: Random House, 1991), 34–48.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    Berel Lang, Writing and the Holocaust (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1988), 279.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Stanislao G. Pugliese 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Druker

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations