Primo Levi's Universe

Primo Levi's Universe

A Writer's Journey

Book - 2009
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Primo Levi is best known for his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz , but he was also a scientist, fiction writer, and poet: in short, a Renaissance man, who did not want to be known exclusively as a Holocaust writer. Using Levi's own words as a springboard, Sam Magavern offers here for the first time a multi-faceted portrait of the man - as a writer. By exploring all of Levi's writings--including his short stories, poems, his delightful novels about blue-collar workers--Magavern introduces us to a talented writer who had a profound love of humanity, a sharp wit, a passion for his profession as a chemist--a man inspired by variety of things beyond his Holocaust experience. Magavern brings a fresh, personal sensibility to the way we think about Levi and produces a hybrid book--part life story and part literary biography, finally doing justice to the man's calm rationality and essential beliefs.

Publisher: New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780230606470
Characteristics: xv, 240 p. ; 22 cm.


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Mar 11, 2016

Sam Magavern goes through many of Levi’s works to support his claim that they provide the key to his life and the cosmos he created in his books. Magavern also intertwines Levi’s biography with his works to provide comparison and contrast between his his writings and his experiences. With this approach, “Primo Levi’s Universe allows us to appreciate how Primo Levi became Primo Levi.” While the book isn’t long, it is packed with plenty of information that will assist someone wanting to explore Levi’s books. Magavern investigates the cosmos and ethos reflected in Levi’s work, looking at how he recorded how we live and how we should live.

I don’t know that I’m completely sold on Magavern’s premise that Levi’s writings constituting a major bildungsroman, but his approach of discovering the man through his works provides a rich assessment on both his life and writings. Levi continually claims that language isn’t adequate to present what happened yet he finds a way to do just that, helping others understand what man is capable of doing, whether good or bad. In the meantime, Levi doesn’t task us to transcend our humanity and become something greater. Instead, he exhorts us to remain worthy of the name ‘man’ and prevent us from devolving into beasts.

All in all, this books is an excellent introduction to the man and his work as well as providing a very good companion when exploring Levi's writings. Very highly recommended.


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