Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi


May he have an accident shaped like an umbrella. [p. 13]

Finally reading this after owning it for almost 40 years. Collection of short "fictions" - first one, "Argon," while fascinating, is a completely off-putting journey through the narrator's family tree, mined with Yiddish and Hebrew words and puns. Started it several times and drowned in it as the first story. It's now more appealing to me, since I understand the central metaphor of the book -- and that argon, as one of the "inert" (noble/rare) gases, completely stands in for his distant relatives of whom he knew very little, except in scattered anecdotes and memories and phrases. 

The rest of the stories are marvelous and much less obscure - each concerns a chemical element in a fictional/fairy tale/historical setting.

"Nitrogen" is a strong example - about a lipstick manufacturer who hires young women as workers and insists on kissing each one eight times each morning to "test" the lipstick.

The concluding story, "Carbon," magnificently pulls it all together.

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