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Primo Levi is best known as a memoirist of Auschwitz, but he was also a scientist, fiction writer, and poet: in short, a Renaissance man. Primo Levi's Universe offers a multi-faceted portrait of the heroic man who turned the concentration camp experience into beautiful yet terrifying literature. Over time, Levi developed an original world-view which he conveyed in his writing. Through careful readings of Levi's works, Sam Magavern finally does justice to his calm rationality, dark poetry, essential beliefs and wit. Levi's art and life are inextricably intertwined, and this book presents them together, allowing each to shed light on the other.
Commemorating the late Primo Levi's 90th birthday, this extended essay interweaves the writer's tragic life with his work. Small of stature, unpopular and a Jew in Fascist Italy, Levi was no model for success. Denied a career as an astrophysicist, he worked as a chemist and later as more of a company paper-pusher. Yet to paraphrase University of Buffalo Law School professor Magavern, though denied the chance to study the stars, Levi became the master chronicler of hell on earth in brilliant works like If This Is a Man and The Periodic Table. Aside from his imprisonment in Auschwitz, Levi was inspired by an eclectic group of authors from Dante to Melville, Paul Celan and, above all, Rabelais. Although Levi had two children and was quietly married for many years, an acquaintance once described him as a prisoner at home living with both his mother and mother-in-law. Two longstanding affairs did little to relieve his battle with depression, and he died in 1987, falling down a stairwell. This is a measured and sensitive academic exploration of a complicated and tortured soul who desperately sought freedom throughout his lifetime.