In the mood for a little adventure, one of my daughters and I cruised up to Shallotte, NC for a few hours Monday. As usual, I came away remembering how much we all need a little variety, especially when there’s a pot of gold at the end. We visited a great bookstore with lots of ambience and hundreds of used books. CDs, and records. We browsed for an hour or so before deciding on our selections (3 for $6), and we both came away with some wonderful books, fiction and nonfiction.
Having never read anything by Primo Levi, I picked up Survival in Auschwitz (originally published as If This Is a Man in Italian) and have been reading it ever since. It’s powerful. Heartbreaking and disturbing, Levi’s remembrances and reflections have made me angry and sorrowful, angry at man’s inhumanity to man and sorrowful that cruelty is so widespread.
For the record, I started the novel Tuesday and am still not finished. The reason is simple. The horror is too much to understand, much less to process and absorb except in pieces. I took it to be beach to read yesterday, hoping that the sun, seagulls, and squealing, happy children would take away some of the darkness. My plan failed. I’ve been a sheltered WASP my entire life, fortunate enough to grow up safe from bullying, persecution, and hatred. While there were a few Jews in my sleepy little Southern town, I didn’t personally know them. They seemed shrouded in mystery and came to mind mainly when I passed the small synagogue
It’s not my purpose to describe genocide, Jewish or Rwandan or any other group, and outline its varied history. I just want to encourage you to read Levi’s remarkable account of suffering, endurance, and hope. He relates the facts of day-to-day living and his impressions and reflections about his surroundings, including people, weather, and the Lager. Instead of finding a passage about cold, sickness, hunger, beatings, or sleeping conditions, I’m sharing one in which Levi descries an image that encapsulates evil: “If I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would chose the image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man with head dropped and shoulders curved on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen.”
There’s no self-pity in Levi’s account, just the facts told from such a “real” place that all but the most cold-hearted among us could go away unmoved.
On a brighter note (I think Levi would approve of that), I also purchased a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet for my daughter. I already have a copy or two and wanted her to experience the beauty and truth of the poetry. I read part of the passage “On Children” aloud. It was that kind of store.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s
longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they
belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not
For they have their own thoughts.
With a sly smile, she said, “You got that right.” I stopped reading and added The Prophet to my growing stack of books. It’s a wonderful book. Both of the above are. Visit a bookstore or your local library to check them out for yourself.