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A Dante Of Our Time

Primo Levi and Auschwitz


Risa B. Sodi

This original and timely volume details the influence of Dante's Inferno on Primo Levi's classic Holocaust narrative, Se questo è uomo, and his last book of essays, I sommersi e i salvatie. Such key concepts as memory, justice, and the realm of the neutral sinners - «la zona grigia» for Levi - are given particular emphasis. Three questions form the backbone of the book: Can memory be overcome? Where is justice for the Holocaust survivor? and, Is there a middle ground between victim and oppressors, and how does Levi define it? Ample use of interviews with the author reveal how Levi relates these three questions to such contemporary figures as Sigmund Freud, Franz Stangl, Rudolf Höss, Jean Améry, Liliana Cavani, and Kurt Waldheim.


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Conclusion 81


CONCLUSION Primo Levi's apparent suicide on Saturday, April 11, 1987, just two days before the beginning of Passover, sent a shock wave through the Italian Jewish and literary communities. While close friends knew he had suffered bouts of depression over the winter, his death seemed nonethe- less to go against the underlying tenets of his books and even the very way in which he lived his life. Some friends still refuse to believe that it was a suicide at all, instead insisting that his five-floor fall down the stairwell of his apartment building was the result of a malore, faintness. Three weeks after Levi's death, his close friend and admirer for over forty years, Rita Levi Montalcini, railed against the speculations about his death from the pages of Panorama magazine. 1 Speaking from a position of authority as a friend of the family for over forty years, she wrote, "First of all, we all know that Primo Levi was absolutely against suicide." Morover, she continued, he was against even the notion of an "ethical suicide" tied to the memories of the Lager. Levi Montalcini, herself, like Levi, from Piedmontese Jewish family, does not believe that Levi's death was a suicide at all. Instead, she posits that, still weak from his recent operation and light-headed, he leaned over the railing outside his five-floor apartment and accidentally fell to his 82 Conclusion death. Levi, after all, she exclaims, was also a chemist: if he had wanted to kill himself, he knew much...

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