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If Not Now, When?

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  2,568 ratings  ·  153 reviews
Primo Levi was among the greatest witnesses to twentieth-century atrocity. In this gripping novel, based on a true story, he 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 ef ...more
Paperback, 331 pages
Published September 7th 2000 by Penguin Classics (first published 1982)
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Karel Heya, not sure if you read it in the end, but as far as WW2 books go this is pretty uplifting. It even blackout a gory fight scene and simply said…moreHeya, not sure if you read it in the end, but as far as WW2 books go this is pretty uplifting. It even blackout a gory fight scene and simply said 'this isn't a book about deaths and massacres'. (: (less)

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Steven Godin
Born into a Jewish family, Primo Levi could not have foreseen the future that lay ahead of him.
With the rise of fascism, the chemist/writer would get caught up in what seemed a civil war in the German zone where Italians fought Italians and fascists fought anti-fascists, Levi was arrested for resistance activity, and by train left Turin, passing the Mole Antonelliana, a major landmark building, little did he realize he would pass the same building entering Turin again in 1945. He was a luc
David (דוד)
This was an amazing piece of war-time adventure! Adventure during war-times you ask?? Yes, that is exactly how this is written, and what makes it on a more optimistic note. A piece of brilliant writing by Primo Levi, and probably one of the best optimistic war novels ever written.

Superbly translated by William Weaver, (who has translated several books from Italian written by Umberto Eco, Primo Levi and Italo Calvino). Not that I have read the original in Italian, but the English translation itself is able to convey a
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The story of Jewish partisans in occupied Russia during the last years of WW2.
A group of people including some who escaped from camps, others that escaped pogroms and some Jewish Russian soldiers. People of different age, different background and different purposes.
Some just want to live and return to their houses, others want to fight and revenge their loved ones and others want to fight in order to immigrate to Palestine.

They are hunted by the Germans with their c
May 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"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 in
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 n
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
Mendel is a Russian Jew whose wife was killed when the Germans invaded Russia. Having joined the Soviet army and become detached from it behind the German lines, he is wandering through the countryside, fighting his own war to survive. He meets up with other partisans, stragglers, and members of various resistance groups. Slowly this changing band makes its way west, coming up against other groups friendly or not, losing some lives and saving others, undermining the German army where possible, b ...more
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
Jun 04, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Superb/fascinating portrayal of (mainly Jewish) group of partisans, in the dying days of WWII, journeying across Russia, Poland, Germany and Italy. Heavily based in fact, so feels very documentary/memoir-ish, but enough characterisation/narrative drive to be satisfying as a novel. Levi has basically done a perfect/necessary job of detailing this little-known POV on the war.
Nov 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
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, ho/>"For
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
No war book has managed to distill such beauty from it, and frame it with such great writing. It reads like Catch-22 without the pessimism and some semblance of coherency - the book grabs you by the hair and marches you through the quintessential adventure story, and shoots you in the belly every time you forget the horrors of war.
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1982
Mid 5. 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 ...more
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Well worth reading. 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.
Wayland Smith
In World War II, there were a lot of confusing times. It wasn't simple time of grand armies fighting, not for everyone. This is the story of a band of Jewish partisans who come together by accident as the various people drift together. The group fights their way across the countryside, seeking someplace safe-- from the Nazis, the citizens with anti-Semitic prejudice, and other bands crossing back and forth between freedom fighters and bandits.

They try and find their way to hold on to their beli
George P.
A really remarkable novel, that I put in a class with "The Unknown Soldiers" by Finnish writer Vaino Linna, because it tells about soldiers in a theatre of World War 2 that is known to very few of us. So well-told that I'm tempted to rate it five stars. I look forward to reading Levi's "Survival in Auschwitz" (nonfiction) though I can only handle 2 or 3 war-story books a year, and this is my fourth this year ;).
Maya Chhabra
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Primo Levi’s Se non ora, quando? (If Not Now, When?) is the first work of his that I’ve read. It recounts the journey of a group of Jewish partisans from the Soviet Union and Poland, whose efforts to survive and fight back against the Nazis take them on an odyssey across Europe to Italy.

Levi, though he was Jewish, a Holocaust survivor, and a partisan, was writing about an experience with which he was unfamiliar (that of East European Ashkenazi Jews) and lists his resources in the bac
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
Rather an unusual book I think as it deals with the events of the Holocaust by focusing on a group of Jewish partisans fighting back with limited weapons but plenty of spirit. It's not a happy book, the life is hard and death is common both from violence and from more prosaic things like the weather and poor food, but these people steadfastly refuse the label of 'victim'. They know their very existence is a miracle, they know they are standing mounds of fellow Jewish corpses, but they live in th ...more
Nov 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books-list
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
Rae Stoltenkamp
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have read only one other book written by Primo Levi: If This is A Man. That was when I was about 15 or 16 and I thought it outstanding. Ever since I’ve meant to read his other works but for some reason or another didn’t round to it. Why have I wasted so much time?
Never before have I read a book and felt the need to have post-it notes constantly at the ready. There are so many lines, phrases, brilliant insights. A superb read. Some tasters for you…
About two female partisans: “Sissl was l
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Astonishingly powerful novel based on truth about a group of Hungarian, Russian, Polish Jews heading west from Russia behind enemy lines between 1943 and 1945. They experience terrible hardships, rivalries and uncertainties, but the group of partisans, men and women, maintain their pride and determination during their 18 month and 2000 km trek to Italy. The wider context of WW2 is there, but as background. This is the story of individuals; often flawed, but with so much hope. The title is taken ...more
Emma Cook
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary book. Given the countless books about WW2 I've read, this stood out for me, given it's different viewpoint on the events that lead up to the end of the war. Based on real events and real people interviewed by the author, a story about Russian, German, Polish and Ukranian Jewish partisans crossing Eastern Europe, their struggles, decisions and survival through adversity.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Primo has a way of writing about such an horrific period in history that he nearly makes it easy reading. The topic is just such a bummer that I can't give it more stars.
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Greg Fanoe
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Primo Levi is one of my 10 or so favorite authors of all time. Every single book of his I've read has been essential.
John McAndrew
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Remarkable document of history by a camp survivor talking about Jewish partisans/guerilla fighters in WW2. There are many quotable philosophical bits, but best to leave them to be discovered in context. What I will say is that it seems to be about how to be human in inhumane conditions. This is one of those books that I wish I could have shared in a book club with Gandhi. (Doesn't everyone have a list of such books?) My assumption is that satyagraha would forbid some of the military action that ...more
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-book-list
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
J Puntillo
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 poin
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

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Primo Michele Levi (Italian: [ˈpriːmo ˈlɛːvi]) was a chemist and writer, the author of books, novels, short stories, essays, and poems. His unique 1975 work, The Periodic Table, linked to qualities of the elements, was named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as the best science book ever written.

Levi spent eleven months imprisoned at Monowitz, one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz
“The sea of grief has no shores, no bottom; no one can sound its depths.” 9 likes
“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.” 8 likes
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