A Matter of Writing Life and Death

Primo Levi's biographers offer no improvement on the original, whose unabridged voice we need to heed more than ever.

Issue: Winter 2002-2003

Carole Angier, The Double Bond: Primo Levi (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002), 898 pp., $40.

Ian Thomson, Primo Levi (London: Hutchinson, 2002), 624 pp., £25.

Primo Levi (1919-87) was a largely autobiographical writer who, in addition to being a chemist, led a third career as a public witness to the Nazi atrocities at Auschwitz. The facts of his life, much like his prose, are simple and straightforward.

Levi was born in Turin on July 31, 1919 and, with two exceptions (work in Milan at the outset of the Second World War and his imprisonment at Auschwitz), he lived in the same apartment his entire life. His family came from the Piedmont countryside, having moved to Turin near the turn of the century. Levi's parents were both culturally assimilated Jews and the prevailing tone in the household was one of irreligion. The family was well off and Levi grew up amid affluence and comfort, in every respect a typical ragazzo borghese italiano.

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