Friday 3 July 2015

I have always shied away from Primo Levi, whether for the chemistry that informed his profession (running a paint factory) or for the chemistry that informed his and my origins (jewish). I read a selection of his stories and found the language annoyingly subservient to the plot (I can get very impatient with plot, especially on a hot day), then began The Periodic Table, the Penguin edition festooned with praise from other jewish writers like Roth and Bellow, neither of whom attract me. I have enjoyed Oliver Sacks on the subject of his youth and chemistry, so why not this?

The Urstoff of Primo Levi is jewish, which I prefer with a small j, as with french, english, irish and arab. This is how far from Primo Levi I am. My father would have been closer. He liked Primo Levi. In fact he seized Primo Levi, as Saul Bellow seized the day and Philip Roth assumed a supremacy I find intolerable. If these characteristics are also mine I'd rather not know.

That is why I have always shied away from Primo Levi.

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