The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is an impassioned response to the Holocaust: Consisting of 21 short stories, each possessing the name of a chemical element, the collection tells of the author's experiences as a Jewish-Italian chemist before, during, and after Auschwitz in luminous, clear, and unfailingly beautiful prose. It has been named the best science book ever by the Royal Institution of Great Britain and is considered to be Levi's crowning achievement.
©1898 1975, 1982, 1994 & 2014 Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino; Translation © Schocken Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC (P)2015 Naxos AudioBooks
Levi survived Auschwitz, and yet this book is fun, showing an appreciation for life as a chemist. Yes, he is bitter, yes he is depressed, but he comes across as nice and interesting.
The beginning was a little confusing, as I didn't know what to expect, but after powering through, was totally captivated by each element's "story". The narrator reminds me if David Attenborough; LOVED him. Tongue-in-cheek humkr is delightful!
"Returno to Torino"
With a fifty minute bus journey each way and the prospect of a couple of hours to kill on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the end of Business Studies and the start of night school, the colourful cover of a 1977 paperback purchased from a now-gone bookshop on Nolton Street, Bridgend was my first encounter with this book. I’d forgotten what first fascinated me with Turin when I made a longed-for visit to that city, remembered some of the names and the streets and a general feeling.
Primo Levi’s writings are distinguishably Northern Italian, industrial, technical, chemical nuts and bolts - it is an Italy that makes things, that prides itself on calling itself an engineering nation and which looks for echoes of itself in the Works and workings of the Germany machine. The same as the South but different. Similar to the North, but again crucially different. Jewish, of course, and tragically and sickeningly apart from those Wartime neighbours - and there is no better or more arresting description of what it was to be alone as a group in a Europe that does not seem to want you and offers no respite. Poetical, by discovery, the exegesis of any atom of Carbon in Expressionist-standing for the whole of the living and dead world down to the final full stop.
Re-read forty years there is enough that is pedestrian in the prose to confirm that others, such as Eco and Tabucchi have surpassed in style - however, the ability to reach across the years with an undimmed bridge to the central humanity of this man. One of the essential writers of late twentieth century European literature, deserves always to be read.
Report Inappropriate Content