Before moving on…

One last comment on my summer reading, A friend, knowing how much I liked Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table, gave me a gorgeous edition of his complete works. It is so good, I feel compelled to quote from it at length, and I’ve only finished the first book, If This is Man. In the afterword, he says he wrote this book as soon as he could after his experience, that it was “burning inside me” and needed expression. About the concentration camp, the Lager, he says:

“…the Lager was also and preeminently a gigantic biological and social experiment. Let thousands of individuals differing in age, condition, origin, language, culture and customs be enclosed within barbed wire, and there be subjected to a regular, controlled life, which is identical for all and  inadequate to all needs. No one could have set up a more rigorous experiment to determine what is inherent and what is acquired in the behavior of the human animal faced with the struggle for life…The only conclusion is that, in the face of driving need, many habits and social instincts are reduced to silence.” Continue reading “Before moving on…”

The Exemplary Sentence: Primo Levi

At a friend’s suggestion, I have been reading Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. I rather skimmed through the early chapters about his relatives, but once I got to the chapter on Hydrogen, I was hooked.

This is not a book about his time in Auschwitz, but about his early years and the years after the war, about life, Italy, the elements and their role in his life. He is a terrific storyteller and a lucid writer, and I’ll quote a few paragraphs here. These are completely separate but should give yo a feel for his writing:

“In January 1941 the fate of Europe and the world seemed to be sealed. Only the deluded could still think that Germany would not win…And yet, if we wanted to live, if we wished in some way to take advantage of the youth coursing through or veins, there was no other resource than self-imposed blindness… “we did not notice,” we pushed all dangers into the limbo of things not perceived or immediately forgotten… Our ignorance allowed us to live, as when you are in the mountains and your rope is frayed and about to break, but you don’t know it and feel safe.”

I often feel like we are holding that same frayed rope now. Continue reading “The Exemplary Sentence: Primo Levi”