Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book Review : The Truce - Primo Levi 9*

IG Farben factory in Monowitz (near Auschwitz)...Image via Wikipedia

The Truce follows on directly from If This Is A Man and if anything, initially at least, is more harrowing and disturbing then his novel describing his year in Monowitz-Auschwitz. As the Russian army advanced across Poland the German and SS soldiers took the remaining inhabitants of Auschwitz on a forced death march, those who were too ill to travel were abandoned. Disease took a terrible toll on those left behind, Levi's descriptions of the hospital corridors filled with excrement and corpses are almost beyond belief.

Yet Levi and others survived and clawed their way back to better health. Eventually the Russians discovered the camps and began to distribute food and very limited medical supplies. The survivors were relocated to refugee camps.

It seems to me that Levi could have, perhaps should have been, filled with rage and hatred at the treatment of himself and his people by the Nazis. It would have been entirely forgivable if he were poisoned by bitterness and aching for vengeance. Primo Levi though is an exceptional man, although he does not forgive nor forget the Nazis and their atrocities, Levi's equanimity in the face of everything that happens to him is inspiring. His day to day, take everything as it comes attitude is admiral and probably the best way to be given the circumstances. There is something heroic in being able to be this calm, humane and compassionate under the conditions he endured.

The Truce then is Levi's tale of the further trials and tribulations of the Italian Jews as they are moved from place to place around Russian occupied Poland. Levi seems to accept all that happens to him without worry or disquiet, having survived the absolute horror of Auschwitz everything else must seem easy by comparison. These people though have no possessions bar their clothes, no money, no jobs and no food except what is granted by the Russians (which arrives in a feast and famine cycle).

Levi's writing is again wonderful and beautiful, he examines in detail the ways of man and the motives behind actions, and if you can forget the terrible situation these people are in then some of the stories contained here are almost laugh out loud funny.

The Truce is beautiful and inspiring despite, or perhaps in direct defiance of the things that happened to its writer, a true triumph of the human spirit

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