Survival in Auschwitz and the Reawakening; Moments of Reprieve

The first book combines in one volume Primo Levi's two World War II classics, first published in Italian soon after the war. This is how it was in Auschwitz in 1944, day after endless day, hour after hour. Levi delineates the "concentration camp" personality, passive and cunning, echoing Bruno Bettleheim's almost identical observations in his memoir of Dachau, The Informed Heart. In a lean, uninflected style, Levi conveys the dream-like atmosphere of the camp, the unreality. The gas chambers are near, but remote. Then the Red Army is near, but it too is remote. Cold, hunger and exhaustion obliterate all thought, and all feeling except cold, hunger and exhaustion. The Reawakening charts Levi's incredibly circular return to Italy via Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Here people and landscapes come vividly alive in a bizarre, often comical series of events and human encounters; a truly remarkable tale.

The second volume, Moments of Reprieve, is new and consists of a series of sketches of people Levi remembers from Auschwitz, from the quiet Italian laborer who saved his life with gifts of food to the chilly German coworkers in the chemical laboratory where he was lucky enough to be given work (which also saved his life). Interesting but fragmentary, it is best read alongside Survival as a sort of addendum. Together these books constitute a record of man's suffering and resilience in extremity that can scarcely be equaled.

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