If this is a Man

Publisher: Orion Press

Cited by:

You can’t understand an atrocity like the Holocaust from facts and figures. Reading If This Is A Man never feels like a worthy chore, and is certainly never merely “depressing” but truly tragic, telling not just of the horror of the machinery of inhumanity, but also of the humanity that persists. Of course I identified with Primo Levi himself, a shy, bookish man, who survived at least in in part precisely because of his intelligence and study. But most impressive is his objectivity and calm, and his refusal to rush to simple or convenient criticism of any person or group or race. When he does focus his anger, however, the results are precise and devastating. When I first travelled to Italy, I’d never heard of Lake Garda or Florence’s Ponte Vecchio but dragged my friend Rob to Turin to seek Levi’s grave (we never found it) and bought a copy of the original book, Se questo è un uomo, from a tiny bookshop using our Rough Guide’s basic phrasebook and French. The next year I switched from a pure English Literature degree course to a joint honours with Italian to learn how to read it.

-- Hakim Cassimally

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