Levi, in his book The Drowned and the Saved, discusses how the skills people had in their pre-lager lives might have helped them as they tried to survLevi, in his book The Drowned and the Saved, discusses how the skills people had in their pre-lager lives might have helped them as they tried to survive in the extermination camps. Levi mentions his training as a chemist. He received a direct benefit by obtaining work at one point that was not hard physical labor and was sheltered from the elements in a chemical laboratory, but he mentions a far more subtle skill being a chemist gave him: his training as an analyst--not just physical material, but people too.
This book is in some ways an homage to the field of chemistry, at least in the way Levi sometimes viewed the discipline. Each chapter (arranged more or less chronologically) of the book is named after an element and taken as a whole, read like an unusual memoir. Sometimes the chapter's element has an obvious connection to the content of the chapter (but as is true with most of Levi's writing, the obvious and clearly stated sentiment is the surface of a deep pool). Sometimes the element has a quality that reminds Levi of that chapter's true subject. Argon, for instance, is an inert gas and Levi uses that quality of "inertness" to expound on Jewish culture in the Piedmont region. The separateness of Jews and their particular argot and their inability or unwillingness to combine with the broader gentile culture of the area (this separateness is part of their identity and also a reason why they have an identity). Not all chapters are from his own personal history (Lead and Mercury, for example, are strange historical fantasies--Lead taking place in bronze age Europe and Mercury on a remote Pacific island mid to late 19th century). Each chapter is complete and can be read on it's own or as part of a literary riff on a broader theme of humanity. Like all of Levi's work, this book is concerned with human connections,about family, friends, enemies--and what happens when those connections are formed, lost or stripped from us. It is a masterwork.
Levi's harrowing tale about the time he spent in the Buden Camp of the Auschwitz complex before being liberated by the Red Army (his book ReawakeningLevi's harrowing tale about the time he spent in the Buden Camp of the Auschwitz complex before being liberated by the Red Army (his book Reawakening tells the tale from the liberation to eventual return to Italy). I know that Levi wrote down events while in the camp on precious scraps of paper and material. These scribblings were each destroyed soon after being created (if found Levi could have been executed as a spy--even ownership of your personal narrative was forbidden, evidently). He must have been practicing his craft as a writer and committing the events to memory. The book itself reads like it was formed this way: tenses are often mixed, chronology shifts. But these trifles are unimportant when measured against the impact of the work as a whole. The story is about how people can be stripped of their humanity (non-American title "If This is a Man" is much better) to become less than beasts and also how people can reclaim it again (or a semblance anyway). Levi's matter of fact reportage of events draws a reader into his circle. He tells you his story without exaggeration, without artificial drama--he seems to trust you, a fellow human, to understand....more
A book about a bewildering, historic city. Lida does a good job of placing the disparate elements of Mexico City into some kind of useful organizationA book about a bewildering, historic city. Lida does a good job of placing the disparate elements of Mexico City into some kind of useful organization for understanding. Each chapter can be read like a stand alone essay or put into the context of the whole (much like how one might have to deal with the dizzying impressions of Mexico City on a visit--organize events as individuals first, to keep from being overwhelmed). Lida does know and love this city and that's apparent in the writing. Lida says that he has lived off and on, mostly on, in Mexico City for 18 years. This perspective is helpful because sometimes natives of a place can't be objective, or their views are too idiomatic to be useful and too often writers that only briefly visit a place don't know what they're talking about--David Lida is neither of these (and he is an excellent writer to boot). ...more
Interesting and earnest, this diary of a teenager who survives his own self immolation attempt tells a courageous story of survival. When I finished tInteresting and earnest, this diary of a teenager who survives his own self immolation attempt tells a courageous story of survival. When I finished the book, I felt that something was missing however. I never got close to understanding why a teenage boy with a typical background would attempt to end his life, let alone in such a horrific way....more
I'm a fan of Kling. He is one of the few people I can think of that is a professional storyteller without using that term figuratively. I think he's pI'm a fan of Kling. He is one of the few people I can think of that is a professional storyteller without using that term figuratively. I think he's pretty funny. His stories are sometimes too sentimental for some tastes, but not for mine. This collection is a good sampling of his raconteur art....more
Darker and edgier than some of his other works (although Sedaris has always had a cynical bent)this was still a solid collection with a few laugh-alouDarker and edgier than some of his other works (although Sedaris has always had a cynical bent)this was still a solid collection with a few laugh-aloud bits I would recommend. I was a little disappointed to find that I had previously read some of the stories in the New Yorker....more