Grappling with the Drowned and the Saved

drowned and the savedThis is one of the hardest books I’ve read this- or any- year. Not so much for it being intellectually stimulating, though it does stretch the brain somewhat, but for how emotionally draining it was to read.

The best way I can explain it is by putting it in direct parallel to Man’s Search For Meaning. Though of a similar nature and sharing the same subject matter (Auschwitz and the Holocaust), Frankl’s book is one of the most uplifting reads I’ve ever experienced. Victor Frankl more than just physically survived the war; Primo Levi on the other hand felt like a different story. Put simply: Levi is the darkness to Frankl’s light. Reading this is like wading through vast oceans of mental perturbation.

And fair enough. The Holocaust should never make for easy reading. Here is spotlighted some of the worst of humanity- the humiliation, the dehumanisation, the pointlessness- all contained in something so simple such as depriving inmates of spoons. I know that may sound meaningless to a lot of people, but the weight of Levi’s delivery and language carries you down into the depths of Nazi depravity.

Though simply written, Levi concentrates on complex ideas and philosophy, ranging from the grey areas of good versus evil to the very nature of reality and memory. So much of this is dedicated to trying to make sense of this atrocity- but I can’t pretend it reached any solid-ground conclusions. None of this will make you comfortable – I daresay some of you will even be discomfited by the review, but as Levi says:

“Uncomfortable truths travel with difficulty”

But at the same time as recognising this book’s brilliance, I could not help feeling adrift after. I confess that this book, written shortly before Levi’s suicide, was not something I was mentally prepared for and I was barely able to keep my head above the waves of its echoing despair. One day perhaps I will read another of his works, but not before I have a sturdier vessel to carry me to the dark places it will no doubt take me.

Rating: 4/5 bananas


Have you read this book? Do you plan to read anything by Primo Levi? What book have you read lately have you struggled with? Let me know in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Grappling with the Drowned and the Saved

  1. The ‘after book depression’ is something I’ve experienced quite a bit. I felt this way after reading A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold, the memoir about the mother of one of the Columbine shooters. But this is why we read right? To experience different things, and see other perspectives, even when it’s painful…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t read books by authors that have committed suicide [if I know of it]. I don’t want to be in the head of someone who is that off balance, because I know it’ll throw me off balance as well…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fair enough- I don’t think it’s a very easy book to read by any stretch of the imagination. Obviously he went through a lot- but I certainly didn’t enjoy being in his head space, so can hardly judge anyone for not wanting to go there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is why we NEED fluffy books in our lives too! So we can refresh after a hard read! I personally can’t do depressing reads unless they leave me feeling hopeful… ❤ I always feel like the orangutan librarian fits you so perfectly after you write a review like this!


  4. I love the comparison: ” Levi is the darkness to Frankl’s light. Reading this is like wading through vast oceans of mental perturbation. ”

    Did you know that going into reading this book? Whenever the Holocaust is a topic of a book, I always try to determine if this is the uplifting or horrifying variety of Holocaust book. Because both certainly exist, and I have to be in the right mood for the horrifying variety.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book which made me feel like I was drowning. Lately, I’ve been avoiding them like the plague! I want to be happy in my free time, not sad. But I know I’m missing a ton of great literature.

    I hope you find a happy, fluffy, silly book to buoy you after reading this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!!

      I did know (which kind of makes me think I was a bit of a masochist, because it also says he killed himself after writing it on the blurb…) That’s very true. I have to really force myself to read books like this- and although the content isn’t the worst I’ve read- the tone is very overbearing.

      Haha good choice!! Thank you so much!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Definitely adding this author to my TBR. Frankl’s book has intrigued me ever since I first layed my eyes on it, but getting the dark side of things sounds too fascinating for me to pass on. Fantastic review! Hope your vessel will get stronger pretty soon to see how his other books fair with you. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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