Primo Levi

Primo Levi (prē´mō lā´vē), 1919–87, Italian writer. A chemist of Jewish descent, Levi was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II. His first memoir, If This Is a Man (1947; also tr. as Survival in Auschwitz) is a restrained yet poignant testimony, devoid of rancor or protest, of the atrocities he witnessed. In his other autobiographical books, The Reawakening (1963; film, 1996) and the dark, posthumously published The Drowned and the Saved (1988), Levi relates the manner in which physical torture and annihilation were accompanied by a process of moral degradation. He stresses that survival was as much a spiritual quest to maintain human dignity as a physical struggle. The Periodic Table (1975), a collection of 21 meditations, each named for a chemical element, draws analogies between a young man's moral formation and the physical and chemical properties that circumscribe our humanity. Levi's novels include The Monkey's Wrench (1978) and If Not Now, When? (1986). He also wrote short stories, essays, and poetry. He died in a fall that was widely thought a suicide.

See his The Voice of Memory: Interviews 1961–1987 (2001), ed. by M. Belpoliti and R. Gordon; biographies by M. Anissimov (1996, tr. 1998), C. Angier (2002), and I. Thomson (2003).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity
Primo Levi; Stuart Woolf.
Collier Books, 1961
Primo Levi and the Politics of Survival
Frederic D. Homer.
University of Missouri Press, 2001
Perspectives on the Holocaust: Essays in Honor of Raul Hilberg
James S. Pacy; Alan P. Wertheimer.
Westview Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Primo Levi: The Survivor As Victim"
From Savage Elements: Epiphany in Primo Levi's Holocaust Writings
Losey, Jay.
Journal of European Studies, Vol. 24, No. 93, March 1994
Testifying to His Text: Primo Levi and the Concentrationary Sublime
Chiampi, James T.
The Romanic Review, Vol. 92, No. 4, November 2001
Entangled Voices: Genre and the Religious Construction of the Self
Frederick J. Ruf.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Circle of Chalk: Narrative Voice in Primo Levi's the Periodic Table"
Bearing Witness: A Resource Guide to Literature, Poetry, Art, Music, and Videos by Holocaust Victims and Survivors
Philip Rosen; Nina Apfelbaum.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Levi, Primo (1919-1987)" begins on p. 54
Authoritative Testimony and Authoritarian Discourse in Primo Levi's Se Questo E Un Uomo
Druker, Jonathan.
Italian Culture, Vol. 19, No. 1, Winter 2001
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