Primo Levi was born in Turin in 1919 into a family that he describes as being of the media borghesia. He graduated with honours in chemistry shortly before the racial laws prohibited Jews from taking academic degrees. In 1943, after the German occupation of northern Italy, he joined a group of partisans in the Val d’Aosta where he was captured by the fascist militia in December of the same year. In February 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz. Of the 650 people transported with him only 15 men and 8 women survived.
Levi’s first book, If This is a Man (1947) is the account of how and what he survived. It has become a modern classic in Italy, and is studied in annotated editions in schools. His camp, Monowitz, was liberated by the Russians in January, 1945, after which he was interned in White Russia with a thousand other Italians. This story, together with that of the 35 days’ journey that took him back to Italy by an absurdly meandering route across Eastern Europe, is told in The Reawakening (1963), which won the Premio Campiello. His Storie Naturali won the Premio Bagutta in 1967; he describes the genre of those stories and those of his next book, Vizio di Forma (1971) as ‘technological fantasy’.