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If Not Now, When?
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If Not Now, When?

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4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  1,437 ratings  ·  79 reviews
Reveals the extraordinary lives of the Russian, Polish and Jewish partisans trapped behind enemy lines during the Second World War. Wracked by fear, hunger and fierce rivalries, they link up, fall apart, struggle to stay alive and to sabotage the efforts of the all-powerful German army.
Paperback, 331 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Penguin Group(CA) (first published 1982)
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Kevin
"If I'm not for myself, who will be for me?

If not this way, how? And if not now, when?"


This is an amazing book, detailing the experiences and journey of a group of Jewish Partisans fighting behind the German Lines on the Russian Front. The book, written by Primo Levi, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, despite being a fictional work, is based around historical fact and that there were small groups or bands of Jewish Partisans who did disrupt the Nazis behind their lines, who worked independe...more
C.
What I learned from this book: the meaning of Israel.

"For the Russians, a longing for home was not an unreasonable hope, even probable: a yearning to go back, a call. For the Jews, the regret for their houses was not a hope but a despair, buried till then under more urgent and serious sorrows, but latent always. Their homes no longer existed: they had been swept away, burned by the war or by slaughter, bloodied by squads of hunters of men; tomb houses, of which it was best not to think, houses o...more
Aubrey
This was in many ways a breath of fresh air in Holocaust literature; reflective of the horrors yet focusing more on WWII itself and all the other things that were happening to the Jews outside of the camps. It was nice learning about the partisans and the underground survivors, and how Italy drew all the Jews from everywhere in preparation for a new life. In a way, it was a period that I already knew a lot about from previous literature, but delivered in a different way, focusing on a different...more
Ron
If Not Now, When offers a realistic fictional account of Jewish partisans operating in eastern Europe during World War Two. The author, Primo Levi, was a death camp survivor who actually met and interviewed the real people on whose lives the book is based.

That said, Levi also wrote a compelling story which engages the reader's heart as well as mind. Think, Doctor Zhivago meets All Quiet on the Western Front quality, though that over simplifies Levi's accomplishment.

As World War Two fades into th...more
Sophie
Primo Levi is such an amazing writer. He has the ability to say so very much with so little in a way that is still intensely satisfying. While I didn't enjoy this book as much as Survival in Auschwitz, it was still an immensely satisfying read. However, if you have never read any Primo Levi, I would recommend starting with his nonfiction. Any of it.
Lorenzo Berardi
"If not like this, how? And if not now, when?"
This line is said by Gedale, one of the main characters of the novel towards the end of the book, but its meaning is wider.

While reading many good and dramatic accounts from the Shoah there's a question that often comes to mind and mouth:
"Why did all these Jewish people let themselves being humiliated, robbed, prisoned and killed by Nazis and anti-semites without trying to resist?"
After all, most of the times, they had numbers on their side.

"Maybe -...more
Leila
Hmm. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It recounts a fascinating story of the life of Russian and Polish Jewish partisans during the Second World War. These are men and women who found themselves behind the front lines in a sort of no man's land and did their part to fight the Nazi's by use of trickery and sabotage. Ultimately the crew in Levi's book was trekking towards Palistine. Really interesting premise, but I didn't find there to be much in the way of character development...more
Josh Trapani
Primo Levi was an Italian scientist and writer who also survived the Holocaust. A few of his works, like "Survival in Auschwitz," are essential reading for those who want to understand the 20th century. "If Not Now, When?" is a fictional account of mostly Jewish partisans during WWII. Levi says the book is based on stories he heard from such people after the war, and while the book's plot-line of battle and survival is amazing - how could it not be? - the book does read more like a history or tr...more
Malvika Katarya
On my Penguin edition, the blurbs on the back are: "In Levi's writing, nothing is superfluous and everything is essential" - Saul Bellow, and "One of the most important and gifted writers of our time" - Italo Calvino.

Very high praise from such prolific authors, which pretty much summarises what I feel about the book myself. Reading it is effortless, Levi takes you straight into the scene, into the dialogs and actions and seamlessly blends the thoughts and ideologies of his characters.

I just fi...more
Liz
Jun 09, 2008 Liz is currently reading it
Not the sort of book I would usually choose - I feel very ignorant about the background (Russian, Polish and Jewish partisans trying to survive in the 2nd World War) but it's very readable because the main character is so human and believable.
Adam
Primo Levi rarely disappoints. This novel is no exception.

A realistic tale of resistance against the Nazis.

I read it long ago, but one or two scenes still remain etched in my memory.
Sam
Based on an number of true events and stories that Levi has uncovered and been told, this book tells of the struggle for survival for a number of Russian, Polish and Jewish partisans trapped behind the German lines in World War II. It shows the difficulties they had to face, the decisions they were forced to make and the bonds they formed with each other as they travelled west in an effort to get to the apparant safety of Israel and Palestine (which is bitterly ironic given recent events in thes...more
Catherine
This is a book that should be read more than once. Levi is an amazing writer and knowing his background makes this book all the more poignant. When he tells of the French Jewish woman saving the crumbs of bread in her pocket, I know he is telling of himself. When he tells of the survivor guilt, I know he knows of what he speaks. He shows how war changes people into something they wouldn't have ever been, something they don't really want to be but have no choice. He is a beautiful writer.

I enjoy...more
Auntie Pam
La guerra separa ma allo stesso tempo unisce, unisce i disperati. E' questa è proprio la storia di un gruppo variegato di partigiani che cercano in tutti i modi di passare il fronte russo e arrivare in Italia, unico trampolino verso la terra promessa. Ecco che allora ognuno porta dietro di se un passato scomodo, chi è scappato dall'Armata Russa e dichiarato disertore, chi è nato in terra sovietica ed è cresciuto su a forza di Stalin e bolscevimo, chi è nato ebreo e chi è semplicemente un polacco...more
Carlo
Fra dodici mesi compirà trent’anni il primo libro della sua produzione che Levi ha voluto etichettare come romanzo, anche se comunque basato su una storia vera e costruito facendo riferimento a un’ampia documentazione riguardante l’ebraismo dell’Europa Orientale. Il volume racconta la piccola epopea di un gruppo di partigiani appunto ebrei che, originari di Russia e Polonia, percorrono un lungo viaggio – all’inizio spesso a piedi, poi con l’aiuto di qualche mezzo di fortuna – che li porta fino i...more
Bookguide
This book tells another side of the Jewish experience during WWII, that of the partisans caught behind enemy lines. It wasn't entirely clear to me where this was set, as it moves around in Central Europe (Poland, Ukraine, Russia?). I was rather hoping that Book Drum would have had a profile, but alas it doesn't (yet). Unfortunately I got caught up in trying to find out where it was set, then forgot to write a review. However, several months later, I was going to take this book with me to release...more
Nanosynergy
I discovered this book on the reading list 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This historical fiction, published first in Italian in 1982 (Se non ora, quando?), draws on the life experiences of the author, an Auschwitz-survivor, conversations he had with others like his main character Mendel, and written first-hand accounts. Levi does an excellent job of creating believable characters and recreating these less-discussed events of World War II.

The story is told through the eyes of Mendel Na...more
Shane
Though the language is, at times, hard to follow, the characters are memorable and relatable. This is obviously Primo Levi's first novel. You can really get a sense of his "soon to emerge" voice as a writer and story teller, though he definetly does not develop his characters as memorably as in The Drowned and the Saved. This particular text does explore the multifaceted existance of Jews and Jewishness, as well as the quandry of the two. A memorable point in the tale is when Pavel (the former t...more
Melissa McClintock
I was looking forward to this book because I am an avid consumer of Holocaust information. (why evil?)

The writer in the introduction pointed out that there are good books written by holocaust survivors that are good to read simply because of the subject and survivor.

However, survivors aren't necessarily writers, and the fact that THIS book is written by a "Writer" with a capital W, sets it apart from other books in that genre.

I agree with this! To the point that I want to consume everything...more
Ned
No, Primo Levi is not a tax on high-grade marijuana.

Primo Levi was a Jewish/Italian writer and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Like the characters in his story, he was also a partisan during World War II.

This is a very well written 1982 novelization of stories based in fact about Jewish partisans who went underground and went into the forests and took up arms and fought the Nazis in Eastern Europe during World War II. Taking up the collective life of the partisan. They lived a g...more
Steve
A matchless and heart-rending portrait of the fight to overcome unimaginary hardships by a group of the disposessed, forced to rely on the basest survival instincts on the edge of humanity by the horror and devastation caused by the Nazi onslaught of the Second World War. This band of Jewish, Polish, and Russian partisans are peopled by unforgettable characters, such as Mendel, the watchmaker, who has survived the decimation of the Red Army, and whose wife, neighbours, and community have been er...more
Rafael
Una novela ejemplar sobre los partizanos, judios o rusos o polacos. todos aquellos que lucharon contra los nazis. Quiza por su procedencia judaica Levi se interioriza mas en los judios partizanos.
Todas sus visicitudes de una maldita guerra a la que fueron aventados. La masacre millones de personas, que sufrieron por la locura de Hitler.
Sin dudas es una novela que cuestiona con muchisimas preguntas al lector y toca profundamente la Identidad Judia. No me gusto la parte final donde se muestra Bene...more
Chz
tocante do começo ao fim. revela de maneira lúcida e sombria detalhes sórdidos da guerra e das guerras que escapam à maioria dos romances ambientados na segunda guerra mundial

Além do aprendizado histórico,o drama psicológico apresentado é profundamente relevante e levanta questões e reflexões que vão do amor e amizade até teologia e talvez o maior indagamento: haverá esperança à humanidade,a mesma que produziu os horrores da guerra?

"si no es asi, como? y si ahora no, cuando?"
Katie Grainger
What I really enjoyed about If Not Now, When? – is that it provided a new perspective for me on the events in Europe in WW2. Written by Primo Levi an Auschwitz survivor it feels like history rather than just being a novel.

The book follows a group of partisans who in their own way contribute to the war effort by sabotaging the Nazis. Most of the band are Jews that have fled the Nazi war machine and all have horrifying stories to tell. This book is ultimately about the journey through 1943 to 194...more
Stephanie
I thought this was an absolutely fascinating book. I got bogged down a bit with some of the geography as that's never been my strong suit. But for me this book shone a light on a side of the Holocaust and WWII that I never really knew existed or gave much thought to - the partisan groups, acting not with the military but of their own accord and towards the same end. The book is about a hodge-podge group of displaced persons (mostly Russian Jews, but there is a lot of variety among the group's ma...more
Anne
I am not one for Holocaust books, since I am Jewish and was subject to Holocaust guilt ad nauseum growing up. However, I went to Israel last summer, and wanted to read a Holocaust book that was about survival, not about desperation and depression and loss. While this book has those three things in spades, the book is ultimately about surviving, by one's own wits, with one's own skills, for better or worse, no matter where the future may lead. And I liked and appreciated that.

It's not a victimiz...more
Jasmine
Okay so I'm about page 160 or so and I have been attempting to force myself to finish this book for more than 2 weeks and have utterly failed. I was bored from the word go. I can't even move it to my Partially read shelf because I don't believe I will ever read the rest of it. I mean I bought a book today so I would not have to read it. But to stop grumbling and talk about the book...

It sounds much more interesting than it is. There are some cool historical facts that you could get from reading...more
Jan Colle
Deep, warm, exciting, sad. An eye opener for me when I was young. Primo Levi never judges and that makes him exceptional.
Ben
I love Primo Levi, though I have to say this book is pretty inferior to If This Is A Man and in particular The Periodic Table. But it is a fascinating portrayal of guerilla warfare (comparable to Che's brilliant Bolivian diaries), of European Jewry facing extinction, of anti-fascism... Decided I would focus on literary portrayals of WWII and the holocaust around this Sunday's Holocaust Memorial Day, so moving on now to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5; there is some interesting comparison there, the...more
Nikki
Thi book really challenged me. It was not an easy read, especially as I was trying to keep up with the geography and history elements of the war. However the story is about the main character's journey throughout the war from his destroyed home town to Italy. It was a fascinating book - it bought my attention to a whole range of people in wartime who I have never thought about before. I liked the ending of the book as it seemed quite symbolic. I would never have chosen this book myself but I am...more
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Primo Michele Levi (Italian: [ˈpriːmo ˈlɛːvi]; 31 July 1919 – 11 April 1987) was an Italian chemist and writer. He was the author of several books, novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His best-known works include If This Is a Man (1947), his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland; and his unique work, The Periodic...more
More about Primo Levi...
Survival in Auschwitz If This Is a Man / The Truce The Periodic Table The Drowned and the Saved The Reawakening

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“Not that he [Uzbek] rejected Mendel's proposals or rebelled against his decisions; but he exercised a subtle, passive abrasion against every active thrust: like dust in a watch, Mendel thought to himself. He's got dust in him, even though he is young. It's stupid to say the young are strong. You understand many things better at thirty than at twenty and you can also bear them better.” 7 likes
“Pavel interrupted him. “I’ll explain what the Talmund is to you, with an example. Now listen carefully: Two chimneysweeps fall down the flue of a chimney; one comes out all covered with soot, the other comes out clean: which of the two goes to wash himself?”
Suspecting a trap, Piotr looked around, as if seeking help. Then he plucked up his courage and answered: “The one who’s dirty goes to wash.”
“Wrong,” Pavel said. “The one who’s dirty sees the other man’s face, and it’s clean, so he thinks he’s clean, too. Instead, the clean one see shte soot on the other one’s face, believes he’s dirty himself, and goes to wash. You understand?”
“I understand. That makes sense.”
“But wait; I haven’t finished the example. Now I’ll ask you a second question. Those two chimneysweeps fall a second time down the same flue, and again one is dirty and one isn’t. Which one goes to wash?”
“I told you I understand. The clean one goes to wash.”
“Wrong,” Pavel said mercilessly. “When he washed after the first fall, the clean man saw that the water in his basin didn’t get dirty, and the dirty man realized why the clean man had gone to wash. So, this time, the dirty chimneysweep went and washed.”
Piotr listened to this, with his mouth open, half in fright and half in curiosity.
“And now the third question. The pair falls down the flue a third time. Which of the two goes to wash?”
“From now on, the dirty one will go and wash,”
“Wrong again. Did you ever hear of two men falling down the same flue and one remaining clean while the other got dirty? There, that’s what the Talmund is like.”
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