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A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Short Stories of Primo Levi Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 11, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Holocaust memoirist Levi (1919–1987) also wrote small fiction sketches, reminiscent of contemporaries Dino Buzzatti and Italo Calvino, for periodicals, collected here and introduced by Goldstein. Of two realistic pieces that recall The Periodic Table and Survival in Auschwitz, one concerns the last minute in the life of a resistance fighter whose act against his German captors would today be called a suicide bombing. Transparent political allegories, of the kind that were fashionable in the Cold War period up to the late '60s, predominate. In the slighter of the 17 works, a miraculous paint is developed to replace lucky charms, and a Mad Max–like look at sports of the future describes tourneys conducted between men armed with hammers and cars. "The Molecule's Defiance" concerns the inexplicable spoiling of a batch of synthetic chemical, eerie in its description of a monstrous, gelatinizing mass expanding rapidly in a reactor, as though revolting against its human makers. While these pieces (published in Italian from 1949 to 1986) don't really stand on their own, they shed further light on Levi's life and work. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Primo Levi (1919–1987) was an Italian chemist and writer, best known for his memoirs If This Is a Man and The Periodic Table.

Ann Goldstein, the translator of all of Elena Ferrante’s novels, is an editor at The New Yorker and a recipient of a PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Alessandra Bastagli is the translator of Primo Levi's stories in A Tranquil Star and his essays in The Complete Works. She lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (April 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064681
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,348,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John L Murphy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is between a three and a four "star" effort compared to the best of Levi already published, but it remains for those of us limited to English-language versions for Levi's work a welcome arrival on the small shelf of his writing over nearly forty years. These stories appear in English for the first time, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his death.

This thin anthology gathers seventeen short tales--not all of them are full-fledged stories. They range from a park full of figures from literature who survive there as long as they are remembered (a conceit that has another twist in Kevin Brockmeier's recent novel "A Brief History of the Dead," also reviewed by me on Amazon) to a deadly little weapon called a "knall" to a gladiator fight pitting cars against hammer-throwing humans. Some are more fantastic, recalling Italo Calvino's fables but with more of an edgy or jaundiced view towards human weakness and unpredictable foibles. These, of the magic paint "tantalum" that works great until the user's bath time, or a kangaroo in "Buffet Dinner," or the Kafkaesque "Bureau of Vital Statistics," remind me of similar reflections collected in the earlier volume "The Mirror Maker." Tales in "A Tranquil Star" like "The Fugitive," "The TV Fans," or "The Molecule's Defiance" (great title admittedly) fall into this mode. But these, in my opinion, are not as gripping as those closer to reality, or at least allegory!

If you have come to "A Tranquil Star" without having read Levi's earlier pieces in this mode, the subject matter may seem light and inconsequential compared to the Holocaust narratives for which he is most known in English today.
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Format: Hardcover
Primo Levi is one of my favorites, but this book really exposes how he has changed over time.

Divided into his earlier and later stories, the book divides pretty cleanly along those lines into classic Primo Levi and newer stuff that could easily have remained unpublished. I was especially looking forward to Bear Meat which is an elaboration of some stories he includes in the Periodic Table; it did not dissappoint. A few of the other stories were also great - the one about the captured partisan, for example. In general, however, I was not pleased with most of the stories, some of which veer off into genres that Levi does not seem at home in.

I can reccommend a few of the stories in this book that Levi fans would love to read because they complement earlier works. However, this is not a good introduction to Primo Levi and I would generally steer away from this book and towards his beautiful book The Periodic Table, or one of his many books about his time in Aushwitz.
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Format: Hardcover
Interesting if you are a Primo Levi fan and have already read much of his other work -- these cover a number of decades of his style and interests.

One nitpick: someone at W.W. Norton doesn't understand the English language, calling these unpublished works when they clearly meant uncollected (in English or any other language) -- all have been previously published as the credits and copyrights in the book make clear.
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Format: Hardcover
That Primo Levi remains the author of perhaps the finest memoir of the Holocaust remains beyond dispute. His crisp vivid prose have helped half a century of readers imagine the unimaginable, yet Levi's work extended far beyond his memoirs of the evil he endured, but unfortunately, like lodestones, those works weighted down the vast body of his writings, often obscuring them from the view of potential readers. These other works, which include poetry, short stories, and at least one novel, defy easy categorization. All sparkle with Levi's razor style. Like Calvino, Levi was a man who sought to break the bonds of convention, to communicate with the reader in a way at once intellectual and visceral. Yet for years, unless you read Italian, you were denied access to these works.

Considerable then is the debt readers owe Goldstein and Bastagli, translators of the new Levi collection, "A Tranquil Star." The stories here run the range of Levi's work, from brief tales taken from his own life, such as a story of a captured partisan ("The Death of Marinese") or a tale within a tale of mountain climbers ("Bear Meat"). Other stories show a humorous, fantastical bend, like "Censorship in Bitinia" in which a nation's censor office discovers that the "essential" process can be deleterious to health, and seek to find an animal that can carry it out and "Gladiator" about a sporting event in which pedestrians duel with cars. In "Knall" Levi offers a Calvinoesque scifi comment on society, discussing the rage for a new gadget which allows people to murder one another silently, albeit only at close range.
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