If this is a Man – Primo Levi

Hi guys!

Easter is almost here! Hopefully, I can finish my two remaining assessments quickly so I don’t have to bring school with me home for the Holidays. I have a month of uni and I can’t wait to have time to read! The book I’m going to write about is parted in two so there will be two posts from the same book.

Primo Levi survived Auschwitz. He was an Italian Jew who was captured in 1943 and sent to the concentration camp with other Italian Jews captured alongside with him. When captured Levi was a student hiding in the Italian countryside with other partisans. Levi doesn’t speak French nor German or Polish, but he understands more and more while in the camp. This, along with his particular friend Alberto, and some luck makes Levi able to survive the concentration camp without losing his mind and humanity completely. 

I have read several books on this topic, but I feel that this book is different. I think it might be because of something said in the introduction which was; «He has rules of thumb for writing which included ‘You will write concisely and clearly’ and ‘You will avoid embellishments and convolutions’ «. I feel that these two thumb rules made me read the book differently. I know it is a real story as are the other books I’ve read, so I can’t put my finger on why this changed my experience of reading it, but it did.

The book is very easy to read and from what I can tell the translation is well done (I don’t speak Italian except for tourist phrases). What sometimes frustrates me is that there will be sentences in German and French that is not translated. Sometimes the next sentence explains its predecessor, but not always and I feel that I miss out on important communication. If I read the sentence slowly and try to break it up I have a slight chance sometimes to understand at least what it is about due to the setting of the book in that moment, but I would prefer to understand it fully.

Levi tells the story of the prisoners left behind in the camps after the Death March started. From Auschwitz, the Death March started in late January of 1945. Previously I’ve read books by prisoners who were either taken on the Death March or escaped before it started. I found this part of the book quite interesting because it reveals how people are able to get back on their feet with what little they have left. They are left to die surrounded by death and unknown to society and forgotten by their previous captors, but they know that someone is coming. Levi explains how he and his hut survives through bombing raids, sickness and their constant hunt for food and warmth in the Polish winter. To me, this is new information and I like learning new things. I’ve never read a book written by an Italian concentration camp prisoner before so it was interesting to read about the experience of the Italians within Auschwitz.

This is a very good book and I highly recommend it! I’m curious to see how the story continues in The Truce.

Published: 1958

Genre: Nonfiction

Theme: World War 2, Holocaust

– The Book Reader

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