The Truce: how Primo Levi rediscovered humanity after Auschwitz


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Shadows from the horrors told in If This Is a Man remain, but this book shows the author finding joy in ordinary life

“Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find our strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”

So Primo Levi describes the beginning of the process of “the demolition of a man”, the “offence” that Auschwitz inflicted on so many people. “Häftling,” he writes in If This Is a Man, using the German word for prisoner, “I have learned that I am a Häftling. My name is ...

The Truce: how Primo Levi rediscovered humanity after Auschwitz


This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Shadows from the horrors told in If This Is a Man remain, but this book shows the author finding joy in ordinary life

“Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find our strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”

So Primo Levi describes the beginning of the process of “the demolition of a man”, the “offence” that Auschwitz inflicted on so many people. “Häftling,” he writes in If This Is a Man, using the German word for prisoner, “I have learned that I am a Häftling. My name is ...

Primo Levi brings readers as close as prose can to the horror of Auschwitz


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If This Is a Man’s vivid, precisely told story keeps us aware of all the individual tragedies occurring amid the mass barbarity of the camps

While in Auschwitz, the exhausted and starving Primo Levi was not even granted the reprieve of a night’s sleep. The hours of darkness were, he writes in If This Is a Man, long, laid on his narrow wooden bunk with his nose pressed up against the feet of a man whose own face he had never seen, “forced to exchange sweats, smells and warmth … under the same blanket”. Those smells might well include slops. The watery soup the prisoners were fed tormented them at night, sending them in “procession to a bucket”. When this stinking vessel was filled, it had to be emptied – about 20 times a night. “Inevitably, with the shaking,” writes Levi, “some of the content overflows on our feet, so ...

Reading group: we’re marking Primo Levi’s centenary this month


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The Italian author, who would have been 100 on 31 July, provides calm clarity in the face of the Holocaust in If This Is a Man and The Truce

This month on the reading group, we are going to look at If This Is a Man and The Truce by Primo Levi, who would have been 100 on 31 July. These are two books that you must read, and not in the usual sense that literary critics may urge you to read something. Both are works of art and remarkable for the calm clarity of Levi’s authorial voice, but there is more at stake. These are books that tell us things we must know. They give us warnings that we must heed. They are, perhaps more than anything we have read here, essential.

Related: Howard Jacobson: rereading If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

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Daydreams and death rays: an odyssey through Sebald’s Suffolk


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Following WG Sebald’s journey in The Rings of Saturn, I found a place unchanged from his account – and worlds apart

It started raining when I arrived in Orford. And it was hot. I had the choice of sweating inside my coat or getting soaked. This felt about right – when WG Sebald arrives at this quiet Suffolk port in The Rings of Saturn, the day is “dull and oppressive”.

Sebald catches a boat from Orford harbour to Orford Ness. This desolate shingle spit was closed off for military testing during the cold war and only opened up to the public in the early 90s, not long before Sebald took his journey. He tells us stories about “death rays” that were tested there, as well as “a system of pipes” that could unleash a “petroleum inferno” and set the surrounding sea boiling. He describes a place of such “godforsaken loneliness” ...

WG Sebald’s bleak vision is not without consolation


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The Rings of Saturn finds an unhappy man walking desolate country and recalling awful history. But the lucid beauty of the writing is cathartic

At the beginning of The Rings of Saturn, the narrator announces that he is setting off “to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work”.

It’s hard not to think that he might have been better off going to a Greek island. Especially at the start, heading to the coastal town of Lowestoft on “one of the old diesel trains, grimed with oil and soot up to the windows” on a “grey, overcast day”. It gets worse when he finally arrives and finds it “run down” and deserted. “I was unprepared for the feeling of wretchedness that instantly seized hold of me,” he says. When he strolls out ...

The Rings of Saturn opens on to a dizzy range of allusions and illusions


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WG Sebald’s beguiling narrative takes in an enormous collection of different topics at the same time as playing seductive games with fact and fiction

Here’s a rough list of the different topics WG Sebald touches on during the first 10 pages of The Rings of Saturn:

A walk in Suffolk, undertaken by Sebald himself.

Post-work “emptiness”.

A superstition about ailments that assail you “under the sign of the Dog Star”.

Sebald’s hospitalisation in Norwich.

The view from Sebald’s hospital bed.

The nature of reality.

Gregor Samsa.

Norwich rooftops at twilight.

Michael Parkinson, a UEA academic who studied Charles Ramuz.

Parkinson’s walking holidays, and his death.

The death of Romance languages lecturer, Janine Dakyns, and her interest in 19th-century French novels.

Gustave Flaubert.

Stupidity. Everywhere.

Sand.

Africa, the Mediterranean, the Iberian peninsula, the Tuileries gardens, a suburb of Rouen, the Sahara.

Dust.

Glaciers.

The angel in Dürer’s Melencolia I.

Surgeon ...

WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn is our reading group book for June


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This month, our European book will be a German author so important he’s earned his own adjective – and his take on the Suffolk coast

The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald has come out of the hat and will be our reading group choice for June.

Originally published in Germany in 1995 as Die Ringe des Saturn, Sebald’s landmark work of psychogeography and melancholic speculation was translated into English by Michael Hulse and published here in 1998. It was quickly recognised as a classic, garnering ecstatic reviews and topping end-of-year lists. Typical was James Wood’s encomium in the Guardian:

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WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn is our reading group book for June


This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




This month, our European book will be a German author so important he’s earned his own adjective – and his take on the Suffolk coast

The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald has come out of the hat and will be our reading group choice for June.

Originally published in Germany in 1995 as Die Ringe des Saturn, Sebald’s landmark work of psychogeography and melancholic speculation was translated into English by Michael Hulse and published here in 1998. It was quickly recognised as a classic, garnering ecstatic reviews and topping end-of-year lists. Typical was James Wood’s encomium in the Guardian:

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Reading group: which European novel should we read in June?


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Restricting the choice to books published since the Treaty of Rome still leaves a dizzying array of possibilities. Please cast your votes in a fun Euro election!

This month on the Reading group, for reasons that are obvious and clearly partisan, I want to celebrate Europe. I want you to nominate your favourite book published on the continent since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – and let’s make it fun.

By this stage in the UK’s national nervous breakdown, plenty of us are painfully aware of what we stand to lose in cutting ourselves off from our friends in Europe – but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate them. Especially since there’s so much good stuff to talk about. In literary terms, there are 62 of the most productive years in world literary history to choose from. Our only stipulation is that your chosen book ...

James Ellroy wastes no time, or words, in pushing readers inside US history


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American Tabloid’s flinty prose zooms us forward through five busy years of crimes high and low – straight into the past

Brace! Here comes a death scene from American Tabloid:

Fulo took the wheel. Pete got in back. Salcido tried to scream through his gag. They hauled down Flagler. Fulo yelled an address: 1089 Northwest 53rd. Pete turned on the radio full blast.

Bobby Darin sang ‘Dream Lover’, earsplitting loud. Pete shot Salcido in the back of the head – exploding teeth ripped the tape off his mouth.

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Reading group: Which James Ellroy novel should we read in May?


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With a new volume due in his second LA Quartet, it’s a good time to read this justly self-declared master of fiction. But which book?

It’s a big month for James Ellroy. The self-described “demon dog of American crime fiction” has a new book on the way: This Storm, the second instalment in his second LA Quartet. Several of his older classics are due to be re-released by the Everyman’s Library, including the original LA Quartet and his follow-up Underworld Trilogy. In Ellroy’s own words, these new editions will canonise him in the “hellaciously hallowed halls of the Great American Novelist Brigade”. He’s also due to appear in London for the first time in five years. Finally, and best of all, we’re going to discuss him here on the reading group.

Ellroy has already been named as “the modern master of hard-boiled fiction” (the Guardian) and “one of ...

Cat’s Eye is more than a novel about petty cruelty – but it sure is cruel


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By the second half of Margaret Atwood’s novel, her heroine has escaped her bullies. But their stinging unkindness is the story’s signature note

There’s a moment in Cat’s Eye when reading it became too much for me. The narrator Elaine, wandering the house of one of her bullies, overhears her tormentor’s mother, Mrs Smeath, describing Elaine to her sister Mildred as “exactly like a heathen”. It’s a moment of ear-burning agony. “What can you expect, with that family … The other children sense it. They know,” says Mrs Smeath. Are the girls being too hard on Elaine, Aunt Mildred asks. Mrs Smeath replies simply: “It’s God’s punishment … It serves her right.”

At this, Elaine flushes with shame and hatred:

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Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye is a sharp study of a very female torture


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As we approach the novel’s 30th anniversary, it’s hard to think of many characters who have endured pain like Atwood’s Elaine

One of the first things you notice when embarking on the unsettling experience of reading Cat’s Eye is that its narrator, Elaine, is herself unusually observant. Her memories of her messed-up childhood are more than vivid. On the first page, she remembers her brother studying while standing on his head (he claims that this will make the blood run down into his brain and nourish it), while wearing his “ravelling maroon sweater”. We are introduced to Elaine’s teenage friend Cordelia, who has “grey-green eyes, opaque and glinting as metal”. Cordelia is on a streetcar with Elaine and they wear: “long wool coats, with tie belts, the collars turned up to look like those of movie stars and rubber boots with the tops folded down and men’s work socks inside. ...

Reading group: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood is our book for April


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Atwood’s blistering take on a female friendship that descends into bullying and torture was criticised as ‘anti-feminist’ on its release in 1988

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye has won our vote and will be the subject of this month’s reading group.

The 1988 novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize and the Canadian Governor General’s award, and was described in the New York Times as “the finest addition to the Best Girlfriend genre yet.”

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Reading group: which Margaret Atwood book should we read this month?


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The Handmaid’s Tale is the obvious choice but let’s discuss the other possibilities in a phenomenal body of work

This month on the reading group, we’re going to choose a book by Margaret Atwood. As her legions of fans will tell you, there’s never a bad time to read Atwood – and right now seems a particularly good one. Not only do the novels we always assumed to be speculative or even science fiction now seem statements of fact, but the recent adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been one of the television events of the decade – and she’s soon to publish a sequel.

Atwood has won a host of awards, from the Booker prize to the inaugural Arthur C Clarke award, and has honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge – among more than a dozen others. Since her first poetry collection, Double Persephone, was published ...

‘Screw the snobbish literati’: was Kurt Vonnegut a science-fiction writer?


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In a new essay, comedian Richard Herring claims Vonnegut was the victim of snobbery. But does anyone still believe sci-fi is a lesser genre?

“Screw the snobbish literati,” writes Richard Herring in my anniversary edition of Slaughterhouse-Five. “There is a deal of literary snobbishness when it comes to Kurt Vonnegut.”

My first thought was that Herring was talking out of the part of the body Vonnegut liked to illustrate with a star. Where was this snobbery? Vonnegut isn’t universally acclaimed, but I’ve trawled through archives of reviews of Slaughterhouse-Five and seen nothing but praise. His New York Times obituary in 2007 declared him the “novelist who caught the imagination of his age”. Norman Mailer called Vonnegut “our own Mark Twain”, a comparison many have made, and praised him as “a marvellous writer with a style that remained undeniably and imperturbably his own”. When Vonnegut died, Gore Vidal said: ...

Slaughterhouse-Five blurs time – and increases the power of reality


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Does Kurt Vonnegut expect us to believe his crazy story? This novel may be funny, but it’s still deadly serious

“After Trout became famous,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast Of Champions, “of course, one of the biggest mysteries about him was whether he was kidding or not.”

Kilgore Trout is a recurring character in Vonnegut’s books and the author of many science-fiction novels. Breakfast of Champions is the first book Vonnegut (the author of many science-fiction novels) wrote after Slaughterhouse-Five had made him famous. And the question of how seriously to take him confronts all his readers.

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Reading group: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is our book for March


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This wildly imaginative novel is 50 years old this month, which is all the excuse we’ll need to turn to this hilarious and humane classic

This month is the 50th anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five – and that’s all the excuse we need to look at this meta-fictional classic here on the reading group.

If you have read the book, you’ll know why I’m so keen to revisit it. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat – though you’ll have to take my word for it, because this isn’t an easy book to explain. Any attempt to outline the plot is liable to end up sounding ridiculous.

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Giovanni’s Room may be about white men, but prejudice is central to the story


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James Baldwin’s story of David’s careless affair depends on discrimination just as much as the ‘negro problem’ novel his publisher wanted

When Knopf rejected Giovanni’s Room in 1956, the publisher told James Baldwin it was because he wasn’t “writing about the same things and in the same manner as you were before”. While posterity has shown just how wrong they were to try to restrict Baldwin’s vision, they were also mistaken – for Baldwin was, in fact, writing about the same things.

Giovanni’s Room documents the experience of people who have faced prejudice, lived with the shame of being cast out of society, and whose very nature has put them in danger. You don’t need to know much about Baldwin to see how this book wasn’t a great departure. In the eyes of Knopf, his previous book, Go Tell It on the Mountain had focused on “the negro problem”; his ...