Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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schematic” and “unsetdingly random,” must be considered a fail­
ure. Eberstadt judges that “Levi’s men and women are wooden
logs whose mental qualities, backgrounds, natures, and convictions
are never shown to us but rather set forth in the leaden exposition
which serves for conversation in this novel. In the absence of dy­
namic action or persuasive human types, Levi resorts to staged
ideological confrontations, with the characters stating in turn their
political philosophies and debating on set topics as they sit around
the campfire in the woods of wartime Byelorussia.”9 While one
might argue that things do not actually transpire in the novel as
Eberstadt describes them, it is clear that the critic has put her fin­
ger on one of the problematics of the text.
Has the problem to do with Eberstadt’s antipathy for Levi’s ar­
tistic style in general? On the contrary, she feels that
Survival in
, for example, is “one of the finest literary works of its
kind, a book whose low clear tones long echo in the reader’s imag­
ination” and “fully justify” Levi’s reputation as a “literary master.”
Eberstadt nevertheless has a bone to pick even with this memoir, a
book she finds so masterful. Her complaint has to do with Levi’s
representation ofJewish religious reality. For her, Levi’s attempts
Survival in Auschwitz, to
depict authentic Jewish life in the camps
do not ring true. And she puts her finger on what she believes is the
cause of Levi’s Jewish failure. In contrast to Hughes’s assessment
of Levi as “a ‘real’ Jew,” Eberstadt takes Levi to task for what she
call his “lack of deep familiarity with either Jewish history or reli­
gion.” Levi, she asserts further, is “cursed with a tin ear for religion
and is incapable of representing imaginatively the life of people
who practice their faith.”
Eberstadt attempts to account for Levi’s lack of religious sensi­
bility by according to him a deep esthetic consciousness. She also
Primo Levi's Judaism
Fernanda Eberstadt. “Reading Primo Levi.”Commentary (October 1985),
pp. 4 1 -47 .