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Primo Levi and “The truce”

Once again my feelings took over and I’m at the keyboard writing something I didn’t mean to write today on my blog.

As I showed you a few posts before, in my reading pile I had “La tregua” by Primo Levi. You know the book in its English translation “The truce”. I’ve just finished the book and to be honest I feel my head full of thoughts and at the same time empty with a huge incapability of put them black on white.

I’ll write a few words anyway, and I’ll do my best to make you understand how I feel. If you love reading and at the same time you’re curious enough about first-hand experience, you should read both “If this is a man” (American version “Survival in Auschwitz”) and “The truce”.

I was given the book to read when I was 13 from my Italian and Latin teacher. I didn’t read it, but I can say now that I wouldn’t have understood it if I did.

Primo Levi with an astonishing simplicity, dotted by words that belong now to an old version of Italian language, describes what happened to him and the rest of the survivals from the camps after the said camps were destroyed by the Russian army in 1945.

He describes how hard it is to realize that they were free when they weren’t even sure to be still alive, when they didn’t understand the language, when they were told to be free and asked to work in demi-slave condition. How confusing was to be brought back and forward in a rotten and decaying train, now closer home and now far away in the midst of the Russian countryside.  

Journey from the camp to Torino, his hometown.

Again he finishes telling how his return home isn’t just happiness of being back after over two years but it’s more fear of the unknown and of the poison that Auschwitz injected into his veins never to leave. Towards the end of the book he says that his nights were spoiled by the nightmare of being still there in the camp dreaming of being at home and yet again seeing the dream in the dream dissolving to leave room only for the order issued in German every morning: “wstawać” (Get up).

I might be too sensitive and I might be one of those people who live in the book they’ve just finished for a while until the spell is broken. But the real problem is that for me “The truce” is just a book, terribly beautiful book, but just a book; for many people this was real life, real experience, and who knows exactly how many people didn’t come back to tell us the story. There is this sentence in the book a few pages before the end in which he says that from 650 people who left Italy when he was taken, only three managed to go back home. The thought of it created a knot in my throat and the urge to cry. I have to tell , this is not even the strongest sentence or the only one to give you this reaction.

I think this a book everybody should read sooner or later, like it happened to me, in their lives. We should remember but most of all we should do something that apparently the world population refuses to do: learn from the previous mistakes.

I’ll leave you with three quotes that I think sum up the whole point of this post:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

“I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.”

― If This Is a Man

 

 “Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite.”

― If This Is a Man

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