I know Primo Levi primarily from his personal narratives. He is an Auschwitz survivor, and many of his most famous writings relate his various experiences during that time. Some of his other writings discuss his work as a chemist or his brief stint in the Italian army before the war.
This collection of short stories began in a similar vein. The very first story is about a captured Italian partisan who has the opportunity to set of a opportunistically positioned German grenade. As I was listening to this story (I listened to the recent audiobook version of this collection read by David Colacci), I was struck by how in the moment this story felt. I also mistakenly thought it was going to set the tone for this collection. In the follow-up story “Bear Meat” I began to wonder where I was being taken. In this story, a group of mountain climbers tell stories of previously foolish ventures that they went on and the lessons they learned from these, as well as the experiences of growth stemming from these.
From there, well, I am not sure what to tell you. Mostly science fiction? A story told from the perspective of a kangaroo at a dinner party?
Throughout the rest of the stories there’s a really strange mix of science fiction, fantasy, absurdism, and not-quite realistic fiction. These stories feel like a strange mix of Philip K Dick/Robert Sheckley, John Updike at times, and primarily a kind of late 20th century Italian Borges. These tales are not particularly cohesive and yet, still work as a functional collection.
I am much more interested in reading from the Primo Levi collection I bought last year knowing that it contains more weirdness. I do want to read the Holocaust narratives, but knowing it is interspersed with these types is heartening.
The translation is really good too. You might know Anne Goldstein from her work translating Elena Ferrante and her solid work and introductory material continues here.