Primo Levi
Guy Lochhead, 01/01/11
Italian chemical engineer, anti-fascist activist and writer. Of Jewish heritage, Levi was imprisoned in Auschwitz for 11 months from February 1944. He was one of only 20 of the 650 Italian Jews in his shipment to survive the camp. The motivation to bear honest witness to that experience led him to write his first and probably most well-known book ‘If This Is A Man’, which was published as a very short run alongside his main career as a chemist, in 1947. His books often take a memoir form that blends fiction and non-fiction to better communicate the lessons of a particular experience. Levi died in mysterious circumstances after falling down a stairwell in 1987. Anything I write here will seem silly because of the heaviness of the subject matter… Levi’s work is characterised by fairness and balance, even when writing about something as emotive as the Holocaust. He began writing to tell the truth of the Lager in response to the revisionist recounts given in textbooks immediately after the war, and all his subsequent writing displays a similar sense of purpose; everything feels calculated and thought-through, but he’s also a terrific writer with a fantastic ability to observe the personal inflections of speech and actions that bring hope and faith in humanity even in the most dehumanising conditions. He’s also a brilliant advocate of the importance of enjoying work, demonstrated most articulately in ‘The Wrench’ – one of the best books I’ve ever read, that filled me with motivation and a sort of bodily joy of fixing problems. I will also include ‘The Periodic Table’ for its exemplary approach to teaching scientific understanding and the fact it’s another fucking brilliant book about really, really important stuff. I think ‘If This Is A Man’ should be read, but I’d feel uncomfortable including something so tied to one historical event (though the book is much more than that) and I am pretty sure readers of the two included books will be led to that, more widely-known, book anyway. His experiences there are included in others of his books too, so it’s not like I’m not acknowledging that part of his life.. Finally, I want to read his accouns of his childhood too. He was a gifted, inventive boy that I might like to take some character ideas from… Best dude ever.

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