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A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories of Primo Leviby Primo Levi
"The allegorical stories here feel clever, but sometimes labored in their striving for originality, less distinctive than his substantial memoirs or than The Periodic Table and the three or four best of his poems. Though it doesn't represent Levi's major work, it completes his important library in English." Mona Simpson, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
The first English publication of seventeen classic Primo Levi stories marks the twentieth anniversary of his death.
A Tranquil Star, the first new American collection of Primo Levi previously untranslated fiction to appear since 1990, affirms his position as one of the twentieth century's most enduring writers. These seventeen stories, first published in Italian between 1949 and 1986, demonstrate Levi's extraordinary range, taking the reader from the primal resistance of a captured partisan fighter to a middle-aged chemist experimenting with a new paint that wards off evil, to the lustful thoughts of an older man obsessed with a mysterious woman in a seaside villa.
In the title story, Levi demonstrates his unerringly tragic understanding of the fragility of the universe through the tale of a pensive astronomer, terrified by the possibility that a long-dormant star might explode and reduce the entire planet to vapor. This remarkable new collection affirms Italo Calvino's conviction that Levi was "one of the most important and gifted writers of our time."
"Holocaust memoirist Levi (19191987) 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish chemist and writer who died 20 years ago, is best known for his 1959 memoir 'Survival in Auschwitz.' But this new collection of stories — all previously unpublished in English — will surely surprise readers familiar with Levi as a 'Holocaust writer' or even those who know the semi-autobiographical stories in 'The Periodic Table.' 'A Tranquil Star' is a cabinet of curiosities,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) in which the realistic pieces are ordinary compared to the array of fascinating items Levi has culled from his imagination of worlds beyond our own. In 'Bureau of Vital Statistics,' for instance, a frustrated man reports to his office for what appears to be an ordinary clerical position, until we slowly realize that his job is to assign causes of death to people on Earth. In 'Gladiators,' a woman reluctantly agrees to join her boyfriend at a popular sporting event — where the 'sport' consists of pedestrians dueling against cars. 'Knall' describes a consumer craze for a pocket-sized gadget that instantly and silently murders people, but only at point-blank range. Each of these stories is only a few pages long, and perhaps it's best to reveal as little about them as possible, so as not to ruin the reader's delight upon discovering the moment when the surreal finally saturates the real. For another writer, this sort of 'punch line' approach to plot might become little more than a gimmick. But the cumulative effect of these stories — each written in the same elegant, unpretentious prose that defined Levi's memoirs — is to make one wonder about the prevailing philosophy that brought these many imagined worlds into a single mind. And as one reads, that philosophy becomes clear. In each story we are introduced to a twist on our world that is, on closer examination, not really a twist at all. The shocking elements of these stories are precisely the points where they correspond to our own world: the sick spectacle that we make of brutal violence, the casual possibility of murder based on whim, the systems of terror and war that knowingly set the causes of others' deaths. As a collection of nearly all of Levi's previously untranslated fiction, this book does include the occasional tale in which inanity trumps insight. But the most poignant stories here are those that deal with the act of writing itself, and in particular its failure to meet the expectation of immortality. As the narrator relates in 'The Fugitive,' about a poem that physically eludes its author's grasp, 'To compose a poem that is worth reading and remembering is a gift of destiny: it happens to only a few people, without regard for rules or intentions, and to them it happens only a few times in their lives.' Levi has been granted this gift of destiny, and American readers now have the gift of rediscovering it. Dara Horn is the author of the novels 'In the Image' and 'The World to Come.'" Reviewed by Jon MeachamDara Horn, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"In Levi's writing, nothing is superfluous and everything is essential." Saul Bellow
"The stories are breathtaking in their breadth of offerings, yet Levi's clarity of voice is consistently offset by his familiar misdirection....This collection is a noble literary achievement." Los Angeles Times
"[A] posthumous collection of stories that covers the full span of [Levi's] writing career. It's a bit of a grab bag — but what a grab bag!...The translations...all read smoothly, capturing Levi's spry leaps of thought and turns of phrase." Seattle Times
"The stories are colored by the inescapable obsession with politics that defines the Italian psyche. They tend toward the allegorical, but they are also incisive and thought-provoking." Chicago Tribune
The first English publication of 17 classic Primo Levi stories marks the 20th anniversary of his death.
A Tranquil Star, the first new American collection of Primo Levi previously untranslated fiction to appear since 1990, affirms his position as one of the twentieth century's most enduring writers.
These seventeen stories, first published in Italian between 1949 and 1986, demonstrate Levi's extraordinary range, taking the reader from the primal resistance of a captured partisan fighter to a middle-aged chemist experimenting with a new paint that wards off evil, to the lustful thoughts of an older man obsessed with a mysterious woman in a seaside villa. In the title story, Levi demonstrates his unerringly tragic understanding of the fragility of the universe through the tale of a pensive astronomer, terrified by the possibility that a long-dormant star might explode and reduce the entire planet to vapor. This remarkable new collection affirms Italo Calvino's conviction that Levi was "one of the most important and gifted writers of our time."
About the Author
Primo Levi (19191987), a chemist by training, gained international recognition for his 1959 memoir Survival in Auschwitz.
Ann Goldstein, an editor at The New Yorker, won the PEN Prize for Italian translation in 1993.
Alessandra Bastagli, a native of Milan, is an editor at Palgrave/Macmillan.
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