On the Dangers of Reading Suicide into the Works of Primo Levi
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.
KeywordsLiterary Production Holocaust Survivor Moral Courage Early Book Constructive Response
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- 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
- Carole Angier, The Double Bond, Primo Levi: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)Google Scholar
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