Literature and War Readalong June 24 2011: If This is A Man aka Se questo è un uomo by Primo Levi

This month is moving very fast and the next readalong is on the 24th already. It might be good to get started if you want to join in.

Primo Levi is a writer that has been on my mind for years. I knew his story, had read about him. I have read other’s accounts of their incarceration in concentration camps. I have read excerpts of Levi’s work but never got around to read his most famous book, the autobiographical account of his incarceration in the extermination camp Auschwitz.

He was on my mind for this and because he committed suicide so late in life. Because he seems to be such a perfect example of survivor’s guilt.

I dreaded to read his account, I know it won’t be cheerful but I always wanted to read it, wanted to explore his life, to understand why he couldn’t live with the guilt of being one of a very few survivors.

Despite the sadness and the horrors he describes there is beauty in his books as he is not only a witness of dreadful times but also an accomplished writer.

Primo Levi’s book is the only nonfiction book in this readalong.

I’m reading the French translation Si c’est un homme.

20 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong June 24 2011: If This is A Man aka Se questo è un uomo by Primo Levi

  1. I read this a few years ago and it has really stayed with me. I look forward to seeing what you and other read-along participants have to say about it.

  2. I’m looking forward to the discussion, but sadly, I won’t be participating this time. My library doesn’t have a copy, and I am unable to get one through interlibrary loan. Apparently, the only library in the area with a copy won’t lend it through interlibrary loan. Ah, well.

  3. I’m finally going to finish the Endo tonight and will hopefully write something next week–there is certainly lots to think about in it. I already have the Levi in my reading pile to pick up next–another heavy duty read–I’ve never read any of his work. I have some other lighter books going on on the side, which is a good thing, I think.

  4. I’ll try and join you if I can, Caroline, but reading time is a little hard to come by this month all of a sudden. Am still in for Elsa Morante, though!

    • It would be great to have you join, of course. The Morante is huge, I will have to get started early. I’m looking forward to it as well. I really wanted to read her books since years. Same for Primo Levi. I also got La tregua but that needs to wait. This month goes too fast.

  5. May I put in another vote for L’ecriture ou la vie by Semprun? I found this the best of all the Holocaust testimonies I read – not so horrific as to be unreadable, profound, moving and uncomfortably evocative. I’ll be interested to see how you get on with the Levi. My Holocaust reading days are over, but it’s right I think that every reader should have got through a few of them.

    • I watched a lot of movies and read novels but no testimonies (apart from Anne Frank’s diary but that stops before she gets to the camp). I agree, you have to stop at one point, it’s probably also repetitive, I do think I have the Semprun but maybe it is one of his novels.

  6. I can’t join, Caroline, but will probably read this, as difficult as the subject matter is. I too am fascinated to know what drove him to take his own life after enduring all that he did. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    • You are welcome. I’m not sure whether he addresses survivor’s guilt in this book. He addresses it in other books but I think it is a basis to understand what he endured and from there trying to understand more. And he writes very well, he is a very humane man.

  7. What did you make of this, Caroline?
    Levi’s follow-up about his journey home, The Truce, is well worth reading as well: so are all his books, if you ask me.

    It’s hard to draw any conclusions about his death. There is much dispute about what happened exactly, let alone what it might mean. We don’t have any real information about his thoughts or feelings on that day, which makes the event inexplicable and confusing. I don’t think we can make assumptions about survivor’s guilt etc., but the fact is we just don’t know.

    • I did write a review. I found it very hard and depressing to read and had a lot of admiration for Levi, for his staying humane in such a horrible situation in which so many others lost their humanity. I saw the movie based on The Truce and also got the book. I might read it next year but I’m not sure I will include it in the readalong. I’m certainly keen on reading more of his books.
      After reading If This is a Man, I’m not sure at all he ever suffered of survivors guilt although it has always been said. Maybe he did develop it later. Amazingly he wrote this book right after coming home.
      It was the one book n the readalong that all those who wanted to read either abandoned or finished much later. This one and Shusaku Endo’s The Sea and Poison.
      Never for one single second in my life was I able how the Holocaust could happen, how so many could be persuaded to join and whenever I read a book like this, I understand it even less. I found Resnais Night and Fog a great companion piece. It made me sick. I was glad it was only 30minutes long, I couldn’t have watched any minute longer. I had the pictures stilll inmind when I read Levi. I understand people didn’t know about it. It was such a monstruous atrocity.That’s why books like this are so important.

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