Levi, Primo (prēˈmō lāˈvē) [key], 1919–87, Italian writer. A chemist of Jewish descent, Levi was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II. His first memoir, If This Is a Man (1947; also tr. as Survival in Auschwitz ) is a restrained yet poignant testimony, devoid of rancor or protest, of the atrocities he witnessed. In his other autobiographical books, The Reawakening (1963; film, 1996) and the dark, posthumously published The Drowned and the Saved (1988), Levi relates the manner in which physical torture and annihilation were accompanied by a process of moral degradation. He stresses that survival was as much a spiritual quest to maintain human dignity as a physical struggle. The Periodic Table (1975), a collection of 21 meditations, each named for a chemical element, draws analogies between a young man's moral formation and the physical and chemical properties that circumscribe our humanity. Levi's novels include The Monkey's Wrench (1978) and If Not Now, When? (1986). He also wrote short stories, essays, and poetry. He died in a fall that was widely thought a suicide.
See his The Voice of Memory: Interviews 1961–1987 (2001), ed. by M. Belpoliti and R. Gordon; biographies by M. Anissimov (1996, tr. 1998), C. Angier (2002), I. Thomson (2003), and B. Lang (2013).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.