Primo Levi just became the first Italian author to have his complete work, including unpublished writings, translated in English and put into print by a single publisher. This has never happened before: not even for Dante, Machiavelli, Montale or Calvino, as highlighted by Ernesto Ferrero on La Stampa. On Thursday, he highlighted in a long essay, titled “The Star and Stripes Key,” the impressive effort necessary to bring this enterprise to completion.
It took 15 years, a team of nine translators coordinated by Anne Goldstein (who also translated Elena Ferrante) and the collaboration of the Centro Internazionale di Studi Primo Levi, to restore Primo Levi’s works to their original meaning including the titles. “In 1959, Se questo è un uomo had become a banal Survival in Auschwitz, while the menacing La Tregua, which suggests a disturbing interlude, had become The Reawekening,” as Ferrero reminded us.
The release by Liveright Imprint of the Complete works of Primo Levi has a meaning going far beyond its literary value, wrote Ferrero. As Primo Levi himself taught us, “Linguistic tension tends to become racial tension. The eternal war led by mankind comes from Babel.
Translating is the anti-Lager. This is the reason why, he [Levi] said, translators should be honored, since they commit ‘to limit the damage of the Babel curse’, which makes us so aggressive.” The American edition of Primo Levi’s opus enables us to receive these suggestions and to ponder about them.