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This review is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

A WAR ON BEHALF OF MEMORY Primo Levi, Other People's Trades (Michael Joseph) £12.95

Primo Levi's If This is a Man is a noble and luminous book, its author blessed - as he hoped he would be - with the Ancient Mariner's "strange power of speech". Written when he was twenty eight, it is one of the two or three major acts of witness concerning the Shoah. The Drowned and the Saved - forty years on - is an angry and urgent recapitulation of his lifelong themes. In it he tells us Nazism was a "war against memory". That book is a war on behalf of memory, and it is clear that he was coming to feel that the bearing of witness had failed. I believe that his suicide was precipitated by three factors: this sense of failure, a re-surfacing and deepening of the-classic guilt feelings of one who was "saved", and the local history of his life during this period in matters of family, health etc. Contrary to two opposed and fashionable theses, his suicide neither cancelled nor under-wrote the significance of his books.

Although Other People's Trades - in an inadequate and often bad translation, a professional derogation Levi would have quietly deplored - has been brought out here after The Drowned and the Saved, it was published in 1985, a year earlier, and is a collection of his essays from the Turin newspaper La Stampa. Levi tells us in his preface that the essays are "the fruit of my roaming about as a curious dilettante for more than ...


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