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The Drowned and the Saved Paperback – April 23, 1989

4.7 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

This book, published months after Italian writer Primo Levi's suicide in 1987, is a small but powerful look at Auschwitz, the hell where Levi was imprisoned during World War II. The book was his third on the subject, following Survival in Auschwitz (1947) and The Reawakening (1963). Removed from the experience by time and age, Levi chose to serve more as an observer of the camp than the passionate young man of his previous work. He writes of "useless violence" inflicted by the guards on prisoners and then concludes the book with a discussion of the Germans who have written to him about their complicity in the event. In all, he tries to make sense of something that--as he knew--made no sense at all. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Renowned Italian author Levi, an Auschwitz survivor, finished this contemplation of the Holocaust before his death in 1987. Observing a general loss of understanding about Nazi Germany as time passes and eyewitnesses die, he asks, "How much of the concentration camp world is dead? . . . What can each of us do so that in this world pregnant with threats at least this threat will be nullified?" Levi's answer is a thoughtful analysis of the process that was the camps, and his chilling conclusions about the conditions that created them are uncomfortably relevant to current events. Highly recommended. Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 23, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067972186X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679721864
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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"The Drowned and the Saved" is the final book of Primo Levi (1919-1987), a Jewish-Italian chemist who survived the death camp of Auschwitz, and turned to authorship in his later years. This book is a group of a half-dozen related essays, each exploring a specific aspect of Levi's view of the Holocaust's causes and effects.
He begins with the concept of "good faith", wondering whether believing a lie excuses it. He notes that oppressors lie to save themselves from believing they are evil, and victims lie to save themselves from believing they suffer. He explores the moral zone between black and white, noting that anybody can be a tough killer or a foolish victim: we are all tyrants and victims in our own way.
He examines survivor's guilt, and reflects on the roles of luck versus blessing in life, and discusses the ways humans need communication to survive, including the way victims bend language to disguise their intentions, and tyrants twist it to cause confusion among their victims.
He tries to distinguish between rationalized evil and collective madness. He believes the spirit and mind can be injured just as the body can, and wonders how a person's perspective plays a role in their survival and psychological health. He describes the various stereotypes people hold when they imagine the stories of those who lived through WWII, e.g., the romantic hero, the evil Nazi, the prisoner who always plots escape, and so on, but explains why they are rough and inaccurate.
Each chapter is like a conversation with an intelligent and qualified author. It is thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. It reflects on psychological and historical themes which are important not only to our understanding of the Holocaust, but also more generally human nature.
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Format: Paperback
The Drowned and the Saved is the haunting last-word meditation of the late Primo Levi on his Auschwitz camp experience. Describing his 1987 work as a collection of "considerations" rather than distinct memories, the thoughtful Levi nevertheless attempts to maintain--as much as possible--the spirit of the Auschwitz truth inevitably eroded, enhanced, or otherwise altered by the passage of 40 years and the flaws of memory: He writes in the first chapter ("The Memory of the Offense") that this later work is still considerably informed by and in concert with the substantial Holocaust literature of the "submerged" (i.e, the perished) and the "saved" that has accumulated since the publication of his 1947 memoir Survival in Auschwitz. But Levi writes, the submerged are the true, albeit lost, witnesses. Only imperfect witness of the monstrous Holocaust experience is available from the saved, like himself.
In The Drowned and the Saved, Levi provides a discerning and articulate exposition of the psychological and sociological peculiarities of the Auschwitz camp--ideas virtually unexplored in popular literature and movies. Throughout the work, he discusses the collective responsibility of nonvictims (in his view, the entire German population) and of the moral dilemmas that arose in a horribly victimized, imprisoned community that was wildly pluralistic (in nationality, language, religion, education, trade, and individual personality). (Tensions between the disparate concepts of collective and individual responsibilities are mostly implicitly explored and not fully crystallized, however, by the author.
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Format: Paperback
How can I begin?
Primo Levi died in spring 1987, in a still unclear accident (someone say a suicide) in his Turin house - few hundred yards from where I lived at the time, and not far away from where I'm writing now. I don't really know if he really killed himself (he didn't leave any note, and staircase rail was low, very low) but I know that his last book ("The Drowned And The Saved") is a book that trasceend any human notion of absolute, unblinking truth.
Primo Levi was a men obsessed by truth. He lived trough one of the most extreme experience a XX century's man could live - one year in Auschwitz. After coming back home, he resume is life as a chemistry expert (he was the director of a small company). He became a writer almost by chance. He was urged to tell the truth about the Holocaust - not the trascendental, nobilitating, almost religious experience movies like "Schindler's List" had make us believe, but something horrible, degrading, a donward spiral in a world where only the worst survive - and the best, the good people, the one deserving survival, die. It called it "the grey zone". It wrote that he came back because he was lucky, because he compromised with the lager system (altrough what saved him was only being a chemistry graduate in a death camp that needed chemistry experts to produce synthetic rubber). He tried, in the mosth unflinching and direct way, to tell the world that being an Auschwitz survivor wasn't a badge of goodness. Actually, it was exactly the reverse.
In "If This Is A Man" (his memories of Auschwitz), he wrote about his experience in a neutral, documentary style. Thirty years laters, he returned (for the first and last time) on the subject.
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