A publishing production years in the making rounds up all of the remarkably diverse works of a writer known up to now, in English, at least, principally as a writer of the Holocaust.
Gathered here in three volumes, Levi’s books—which, yes, feature some of the most detailed and incisive writing that exists about the Holocaust (Levi survived a year at Auschwitz)—present a much fuller portrait of the Italian writer than many readers have encountered before. The volumes are arranged in chronological order of his publishing career, so Volume 1 includes If This Is a Man and The Truce, in which Levi writes evocatively about his post-Auschwitz search for a home, but it also gathers his lesser-known stories (“The Mnemagogs” is particularly memorable). Volumes 2 and 3 are where Levi fans will rejoice, though, finding more previously untranslated material in those books. Ten translators (including FSG publisher Jonathan Galassi) contribute their work here; anthology editor Goldstein notes in an introduction that she employed a “uniform editorial standard” across the many pages. In fact, the variance in translators isn’t noticeable. It’s amazing how often Levi stared down the most awful aspects of humanity: slaughter, genocide, and racism, to name a few. “No justice system absolves a murderer because there are other murderers in the house across the street,” he wrote in 1987. Levi was aware of all the murderers and yet always wrote about them with clarity and insight. Levi died in 1987 and we see him (in Volume 3) thinking, among other topics, about Chernobyl, eugenics, and spiders (about which he has “strongly ambivalent feelings”). Levi, a scientist and deep humanist, vividly comes alive in this boxed set.
A laudable, monumental effort to gather the work of a crucial writer of the 20th century in one voluminous package.