If this is man?
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If this is a man by Primo Levi (not sure about touchstone)
Primo Levi's recollection of his survival of concentration camp Auschwitz.
This is one of the books that have been most disturbing reading experiences for me. It is the one book that really made the holocaust come to life for me.
What I find most disturbing is not the way the guards treat the prisoners, it is not the descriptions of hunger, abuse, suffering and death, it is not even the description of the organised murder of thousands of prisoners in the gas chambers. All of that is very disturbing, and the fact that it really happened makes it even more so.
But the most disturbing thing about this book is that it shows, that people, all people, can be turned into beasts. The nazi's become beasts because they get permission from their superiors. But the prisoners also start behaving like beasts, losing all selfrespect and commiting horrible acts to their fellow prisoners. In these horrible circumstances the most horrible behaviour became acceptable and necessary for survival. And it really made me think: what would I have done? I consider myself, like most people I'm sure, basically a good person. What would it take for me to become a monster? Are morals and values just a thin layer that cover the beastliness that is in all of us?
This book will make you lose all faith in mankind.
Haven't read any Primo Levi yet, but want to. What marvas describes with the detainees becoming beastly toward one another is also briefly touched upon by Elie Wiesel in Night, when German civilians at a train depot hurl bread into the crammed box cars full of prisoners and some of them are literally crushed and limbs ripped apart in the crazed scurrying just for a mouthful of food. It's disturbing that some of the civilians throwing food were probably entertained as they watched starving, anorexic looking human lives fight for food as if they were ducks jostling for crumbs at the local pond. I believe prolonged torture and deprivation could make animals of most of us.
Like #1, If This is a Man had a profound impact on me like few books can. Another is The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh. Both are based on the authors' own experience, the latter one set in (North) Vietnam where the main character belongs to a military unit that recovers soldiers' corpses. Revisiting the sites of battles raises emotional ghosts for him and writing about those years is the only way to purge them.
A non-fiction book is actually one of my most disturbing reads A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. A Pulitzer-prize winner, it documents US policy towards events in the 20th century "defined" and "recognized" as genocide. What is most disturbing is that most or, perhaps even, all of these events were preventable, but the country who could have done most to influence these events failed consistently to do so, not as a matter of ignorance but as a policy consistently upheld in every administration since the early 1900s.
When I was in jr. high and high school, I read novels about WWII obsessively. I think it started with Number the Stars. I can't remember if it was this or another of Levi's books, but reading one of his completely knocked me out of that obsession. I'd read plenty of nonfiction on the subject, saw Schindler's List even. But for some reasons, his seemed so real that it finally hit home that everything I'd read was real, everything had actually happened and was done by human beings to human beings. It was almost a decade before I could read anything else on the subject without having nightmares.
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