Bang, Crash, Crack

Elizabeth Lowry

The Italian writer, chemist and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi died twenty years ago, on 11 April 1987, when he plummeted down the stairwell of his apartment building in Turin. He was 67. The coroner’s verdict was straightforward: suicide. The unexpected death of this apparently serene and self-controlled man, particularly the violent and dramatic nature of it, at first stunned his readers, but within weeks the event had come to be regarded as inevitable. The consensus, in the words of Levi’s friend Ferdinando Camon, was that Levi’s suicide should be ‘backdated to 1945. It did not happen then because Primo wanted (and had to) write. Now, having completed his work, he could kill himself. And he did.’ The Drowned and the Saved, which Levi finished in 1986, was the end of his cycle of memoirs, begun in 1946 soon after his release from Auschwitz.

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