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Ian Thomson

Ian Thomson is the author of Primo Levi and The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica, which won last year’s Ondaatje Prize. He is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at University College London and still speaks fluent Italian.

Diary: Assault on the Via Salaria

Ian Thomson, 14 April 2011

At ten past three the phone rang. ‘Pronto,’ I said, and the voice answered: ‘I am Signor Calvino.’ It was the novelist Italo Calvino; I was due to interview him later that afternoon. We had scarcely agreed on the place when something hard hit me on the back of the head. The room spun; there was a glare of light. Calvino assumed it was a bad connection. I sat for a while on the marble steps outside the flat, my vision blurred and a taste of copper in my mouth. I remember moments of lucidity when I was aware of a burning pain in my head and blood running down my face. Had Gilly not come home early that evening I might have died. At about six o’clock she opened the door to our flat on Via Salaria. Bloody handprints covered the walls where I had tried to steady myself. A pungent smell filled the air. Down the hall in the bathroom she found two damp bath-towels stained with blood. I was in the kitchen, sprawled face-down on the floor. Blood had congealed in a pool round my head. In a panic Gilly tried to sit me up but my movements were unco-ordinated and my speech garbled. I seemed to be ‘speaking backwards’, Gilly later told the police.

Primo Levi

Thomas Laqueur, 5 September 2002

Primo Levi is among the most read and most resonant witnesses to the greatest human disaster of a disastrous age. He created more powerful images, more mind-sustaining turns of phrase through...

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