If This Is A Man

In a bid to recover some lost time on my classics reading challenge and retain some chance of completing three more books over the next ten days (as if), I rescued Primo Levi’s two memoirs of his time in Auschwitz from my shelves and devoured both ‘If This Is A Man’ and ‘The Truce’ over the weekend. It’s been a while since I read these two, and although some things had stayed with me since my initial reading of his works – a general impression of extreme work, no food, sore feet and appalling living conditions – those things were overshadowed by the new impressions my latest reading has left me with. There’s nothing to say about German concentration camps and the persecution of Jews; all that is left is for each individual to discover that appalling chapter of history for themselves and take from it what they will. I personally found Levi’s lack of resentment and anger the most astonishing facet of his writing, although whether he was too numbed and drained by everything that had happened to him to want to cover it again through writing or whether he was simply past resentment because there was no comprehending the behaviour of the Germans is impossible to say.

Since this was only the second classic I’ve managed to complete to date I have some way to go. The Obscene Bird of Night is still on my nightstand and I’m still less than halfway through it – it requires concentration to read it, because the prose is semi stream of consciousness and semi…something else, and it is hard to know who is actually speaking, whether they are really speaking or just thinking, whether the action is in the present or in a memory or even whether anything real is happening at all. When I manage to set some time aside for it, I do enjoy reading it and marvelling at how verbose the narrator is while at the same time conveying seemingly minimal information.

I also caved today while in Borders and bought the collected poems of Oscar Wilde. I haven’t read much of Wilde’s poetry, but The Ballad of Reading Gaol is one of my favourite works and I can recite vast tracts of it from memory. I’ll never forget the unfortunate student on University Challenge who called it The Ballad of Reading Goal in response to one of Paxman’s questions, to be met with a stare of disbelief as Paxman corrected his pronounciation and told him ‘I bet the title makes more sense now, doesn’t it?’

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “If This Is A Man

  1. Nyssaneala

    I have Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz on my TBR challenge this year. I have never read any of his works, so it was nice to see a review!

  2. Imani

    I have the collected works of Wilde but have only made it through most of the plays and prose, only a bit of the poetry. Love that University Challenge anecdote. Ha!

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