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This review is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

PROPERTIES OF PLACE AND TIME Anthony Rudolf, At An Uncertain Hour: Primo Levi's war against oblivion (Menard Press) £6

It took time for Primo Levi to become widely admired as a writer; and no sooner had he done so, seemingly, than he was gone. Though there was a sense in which the manner of his going epitomized the plight of all post-holocaust survivors -having been prefigured by his account of Jean Amery in The Drowned and the Saved Levi's death prompted a private pang of grief in readers for whom his books had acted as proxy for actual acquaintance. Though the later books made it possible for everyone to know him better, it was If This Is A Man which struck home with the greatest impact, and guaranteed him a lasting fame. There was something at once dispiriting and disorientating on opening one's newspaper to discover that this was, indeed, a man, or rather -as the shock waves crystallized into harsh fact - had been one.

Anthony Rudolf has written, one might almost say compiled (from previously published but scattered sources), a book-length essay on Levi, the first of its kind in English or, apparently, in any language. At An Uncertain Hour is an act of homage to a person with whom Rudolf enjoyed an absorbing friendship, and achieves its modest object by shunning absolutely the grand, but empty, gesture, and the luxury of rhetoric. Levi himself was convinced of the merits of an uncompromising plainness by an appalling exposure to its opposite, the stock-intrade of a savage ideology; he would not, I think, have been ...


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