The writer turned his imprisonment in Auschwitz into a powerful testimonyby Joanna Bourke / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
It was a war zone, but the house at No 26 Glockenstrasse appeared intact. All around it was devastation: pavements were broken, roads were impassable, and the stench of blood, piss and cement hung in the air. Nazism had been defeated, but the house at No 26 remained: a monument to human cruelty.
This is the scene Primo Levi conjured in “Angelic Butterfly,” one of his science-fiction stories, written in the early 1960s. Although Levi is better known for his books describing his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz, the extraordinary variety of his writing is startlingly revealed in Ann Goldstein’s edited Complete Works. This is the first time all of Levi’s writings have been translated into English and set out chronologically. In three beautiful volumes, Levi’s memoirs, novels, poetry, literary criticism, newspaper polemics, reviews, forewords, fantasy tales and science fiction are now available to English-language readers. The effect is both enthralling and overwhelming.
In “Angelic Butterfly” a scientist called Professor Leeb and some soldiers are seen marching four skeletal prisoners into the house at No 26 Glockenstrasse. A 16-year-old neighbour called Gertrud Enk realised that “something strange was going on,” only to be told by her father: “Le…