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Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and…

Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy

by Sergio Luzzatto

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Primo Levi's Resistance was a detailed, well-researched, and thought-provoking book. It was the first book I had read on the Italian resistance, and I learned a tremendous amount. Complicated logistics--such as the approach to the mountain which served as a base of operations--are carefully explained. Levi's own responses to certain actions--or the paucity of his mentions of them--are explored in detail, and the author does a good deal of close reading to accomplish this. The consequences that many members of the resistance faced, and the merits and errors in judgment that led to these consequences, are likewise explored in depth. Like any resistance, the one in which Levi participated was not perfect, and Luzzatto spends a good deal of time delving into the "ugly secret"(61, 67) involving ways in which certain members of the resistance were disciplined.

The factual content of this book was compelling, and the interwoven research narrative certainly helped establish the validity of Luzzatto's sources, but the transitions between the author's descriptions of history and his accounts of his research process felt stilted and awkward at times. I frequently wished that the research narrative had been shortened, relegated to footnotes, or both. While a relatively minor issue, the juxtaposition of these two accounts was a constant irritant to me as a reader, and, for this reason alone, I wouldn't recommend it as a first read on the Italian Resistance. Certainly read this book if you already know a bit about Primo Levi and would like more context; the entire volume gives detailed and wonderful descriptions of Levi's compatriots and includes many events in which he was not even an active participant. Similarly, read this book if you are a scholar of history and would like to know more about research methods for events in the recent past. However, I would recommend that someone new to the study of the Italian Resistance start with one of the volumes listed in Luzzatto's extensive bibliography, and transition to this book once they have enjoyed an account written more simply and directly.
  palaephata | Jun 27, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I finished with this one a while ago, but have been struggling with what to say about it. That's mostly because I struggled to get through it. It's an ER selection, so I owe it a real review, but this won't be among my better efforts. I found the book dry, a bit muddled, and hard to follow. I suspect part of the problem is that I simply had no context for this piece of history, knowing nothing whatever about the Italian resistance during WWII, and not having read any of Primo Levi's work either. I had a terrible time keeping the players sorted: who was a collaborator, who was a freedom fighter, who was pretending to be one or the other, who betrayed whom? There is probably valuable historical information here for those with a better foundation, but it isn't a stellar narrative, and it didn't help me understand the relatively brief episode it's meant to describe. Probably not for the general readership.
JANUARY 2016 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Jan 26, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Primo Levi was one of the earliest witnesses to the Holocaust, writing two memoirs [[If This is a Man]] and [[The Truce]], the first describing the circles of hell of Auschwitz, the second his long walk home following liberation.

A later memoir [[The Periodic Table]] ingeniously integrates his life and chemistry.

Sergio Luzzatto latches onto a few lines from the latter, and investigates Levi's time in the resistance. It is amazing how many concrete facts he finds at this late date, even including interviews with now greatly aged survivors. In Levi's own words, they were amateurs, and set out to 'invent a resistance'. The setting is in northern Italy after the fall of Mussolini, after Germany has invaded its former ally. Rumors of terrible things happening to Jews reached Levi's family, and they fled to the mountains. During the days young Primo stayed at a resort hotel, and at night worked on that invention with a few other outcasts on the run. The group is quickly infiltrated and broken up, but not before an event that haunted Levi for the rest of his days.

Two partisans from the south, juvenile delinquents, seemingly - have reached the area and are big talkers. They make vague threats the evening after arriving, and are unceremoniously shot in the back from a few yards away. The exact details are now forever lost, but Luzzatto does find the names of the two killed and even interviews some of their decedents. One of those killed, shot in the back by fellow partisans for general banditry, now has two schools and the plaza in his home town named for him, as a martyr for Italy's resistance. Luzzatto even visits one of the schools, where students walk under a portrait of the school's namesake every morning. History is complicated.

Just days after the shooting, Levi and some of his group were arrested by the local Fascist collaborator. At the time he thought himself lucky that he was detained as a Jew and not a partisan. However, that was enough to be deported to Auschwitz. Ironically, one of his collaborators was arrested to be tried as a partisan, but ended up freed after 18 months in prison, and was giving piano lessons to the warden's daughter by the end of the war.

The final chapters are an exploration into the recriminations in post-war Italy, at the time influenced by a hope for the new republic, and Italy's role in the (then) new Cold War. 'Democratic Italy was baptized as Fascist Italy was crucified.' - Sergio Luzzatto

4 1/2 stars, read as LibraryThing Early Reviewer ( )
  kcshankd | Dec 24, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A micro-history of the Italian Resistance in Valle d'Aosta in the far north-western corner of Italy in the mountains on the border of France and Switzerland from late 1943 to late 1945 and on into the fall out over the following twenty years. No, it's not a biography of Primo Levi, although he is a recurring figure and much of the author's inspiration. Levi was a member of the Resistance for two or three months in late 1943, just as it was forming, before he was arrested in an early raid by the Salo government, which was controlled by Germany. Levi was deported to Auschwitz only a few months later after this arrest, but the narrative continues in Italy until well after Levi's return, going into detail about the trials of the Nazi-Fascist collaborators, many of whom were quite brutal but ultimately suffered very little punishment. The book is extremely well-written (and translated), and the author injects just enough of his experiences to make it colorful and human, despite some of the horror he must write about. The book does not cover all of Italy either- only the northeast corner- and it does not cover everything the Salo regime carried out- it is very limited in scope, but very deep. While the book is not solely about Primo Levi, there are many references to his biography and writings, so that those who want to learn about new research into this narrow part of his life will be interested. Highly recommended for those interested in Italy during World War II and the aftermath, especially in this remote corner. ( )
  belgrade18 | Dec 11, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
With the new publication of The Complete Works of Primo Levi getting amazing reviews everywhere, this small addition to the lore and legacy of the great writer is very welcome indeed. While focusing on the underrepresented Italian Resistance movement, this well-written book has great insights to offer about the man behind the writer. Filled with anecdotes and deep history, I would certainly recommend this to any student of World War II, resistance movements or even the modern history of Italy itself. Bravo. ( )
  michaelg16 | Nov 23, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805099557, Hardcover)

A daring investigation of Primo Levi's brief career as a fighter with the Italian Resistance, and the grim secret that haunted his life

No other Auschwitz survivor has been as literarily powerful and historically influential as Primo Levi. Yet Levi was not only a victim or a witness. In the fall of 1943, at the very start of the Italian Resistance, he was a fighter, participating in the first attempts to launch guerrilla warfare against occupying Nazi forces. Those three months have been largely overlooked by Levi's biographers; indeed, they went strikingly unmentioned by Levi himself. For the rest of his life he barely acknowledged that autumn in the Alps. But an obscure passage in Levi's The Periodic Table hints that his deportation to Auschwitz was linked directly to an incident from that time: "an ugly secret" that had made him give up the struggle, "extinguishing all will to resist, indeed to live."

What did Levi mean by those dramatic lines? Using extensive archival research, Sergio Luzzatto's groundbreaking Primo Levi, Partisan reconstructs the events of 1943 in vivid detail. Just days before Levi was captured, Luzzatto shows, his group summarily executed two teenagers who had sought to join the partisans, deciding the boys were reckless and couldn't be trusted. The brutal episode has been shrouded in silence, but its repercussions would shape Levi's life.

Combining investigative flair with profound empathy, Primo Levi, Partisan offers startling insight into the origins of the moral complexity that runs through the work of Primo Levi himself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:00 -0400)

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