This 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.