The Truce by Primo Levi

This is the follow up to If This is Man and was written some years’ later. Interestingly, If This is a Man did not attract much interest when it was first published and only became recognised widely and internationally in the 1950s.

This is the story of Levi’s departure from the camp, after the war ended and the Russians arrived, and his return to Italy. It is beautifully written and intensely humane. It is full of aphoristic observations about the lot of mankind and you feel very strongly that you are hearing directly from someone who has learned, really learned and acquired wisdom, from bitter experience. For example, watching a trainload of Ukrainian women returning to their country after being coerced into years of servitude in Germany, he says:

“We alone watched their passage, with compassion and sadness, a new testimony to, and a new aspect of, the pestilence which had prostrated Europe”.

His descriptions of the mingling of languages and nationalities that occurred in the chaos of the war’s end are both moving and, at times, funny.

And the Afterword to the book, written to respond to the questions asked most frequently at his public readings, is fascinating. In it, he tries to explain why the Nazis hated the Jews so much. He says it is not explicable, because to explain it is to contemplate the possiblity that it is understandable, and therefore within the bounds of human morality. He says we have to accept it as something beyond understanding.

Well, he would know.

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