Jewish Review of Books

If This Is a Man

By Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Fall 2016

The Complete Works of Primo Levi

edited by Ann Goldstein, with an introduction by Toni Morrison

Liveright, 3,008 pp., $100

The unexpected news of the passing of Primo Levi on April 11, 1987 shocked not only his family and friends but also readers of his work around the world. Levi’s death, the result of a fall down the narrow stairwell of his apartment building in Turin, was officially pronounced a suicide. In part because he left no message behind, some of his close friends doubted that he had killed himself. Others, including his biographers, have agreed with the verdict of suicide, an issue to which I shall return. One matter is beyond dispute: In the large and still growing corpus of literature written in response to the Nazi genocide of the Jews, Levi has become canonical. The reasons for this are amply displayed in The Complete Works of Primo Levi, a handsomely produced three-volume gathering of almost everything Levi wrote, edited by one of his most distinguished English translators, Ann Goldstein.

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