Mystery of Levi and His 'Suicide' Leap; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
QUESTION Having recently read Primo Levi's wonderful book If This Is A Man, I was shocked to be told he had committed suicide. Is this true?
BORN in Turin on July 31, 1919, Primo Levi took to the Italian countryside with several comrades in 1943 in an attempt to join the Italian anti-Fascist resistance.
He was arrested by the occupying German army and when it was discovered he was Jewish, he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944.
Levi spent ten months at the camp before it was liberated by the Red Army.
Of the 650 Italian Jews in his 'shipment', he was one of only 20 who left there alive.
A chemistry graduate, Levi became an industrial chemist after the war while writing the highly acclaimed works charting his experience in Auschwitz, If This Is A Man and The Truce.
A series of acclaimed memoirs, short story collections and novels followed, including the awardwinning If Not Now, When?
When Levi died on April 11, 1987, after falling down the stairwell of the apartments where he lived, it was generally assumed he had committed suicide.
His mother was dying of cancer and he himself had prostate problems which he feared (wrongly, it turned out) were due to cancer. He had been on antidepressants for some time.
However, he left no suicide note and some of his friends believe he was simply made dizzy by the antidepressants and fell against the stairwell railing, which was below waist-height, and pitched over it by accident.
If he did jump rather than fall, there may have been reasons more complex than depression.
Levi had been a mountainclimber in his youth, and a climber friend once told me that all the time she is climbing she can feel the sheer drop calling to her to let go, to find out - even if only for a moment - what it would feel like to fly.
This is, apparently, a common experience among climbers.
Maybe Levi, the old mountain hand, felt the depth below him calling him one last time.
Claire Jordan, Edinburgh.
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