Prof. Barry McCrea presents “Primo Levi’s 'The Truce': a guide to returning to life”

Author: Costanza Montanari

The Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway, in partnership with Kylemore Abbey Global Center and the Notre Dame Alumni Association, are launching the latest appointment with the Rome Book Club Journey to Italy – Viaggio in Italia.

Starting on Friday, November 12,  “Primo Levi’s The Truce: a guide to returning to life” will last three weeks (November 12, 19 and December 3rd) and will be led by Professor Barry McCrea who teaches modern literature in the departments of English,

Primo Levi In Turin 1985 009

Romance Languages, and Irish Language at the University of Notre Dame. McCrea is the author of a prize-winning novel, The First Verse and two scholarly books, the most of which, Languages of the Night , won the René Wellek award for book of the year. 

Primo Levi was an Italian writer, perhaps best known for his memoir of his time as a prisoner in a concentration camp, If this is a Man (translated in the US as Survival in Auschwitz). In this book club McCrea will explore a later work, The Truce, written more than 15 years after the end of World War II. In The Truce, Levi tells the story of his long journey home from Auschwitz after the liberation. On this voyage of more than a year, he navigates various refugee camps, temporary shelters, field-hospitals and seemingly endless train-journeys, as he makes his way across war-ravaged Europe home towards Turin.

Levi gives us a portrait of Europe in the smoking ruins of the Second World War, when the Nazis have been defeated but the post-war order has not yet been established. His adventures take place in a chaotic, in-between world inhabited by drifters, grifters, and displaced persons of all kinds, a world shaken not only by bombs, but by guilt, retribution, desperation, and hunger. 

“The Truce is a book that comes in the immediate aftermath of unequalled horror,” comments McCrea. “It recounts episodes of hunger, thirst, fear, and violence; yet it is one of the most exuberant and funny novels you will ever read, filled to the brim on every page with an irrepressible joy at the varieties and absurdities of human existence. As well as a physical trip that covers, in fits and starts, more than a half-dozen countries, Levi takes us on a psychological, spiritual journey from death back to life.”

“This is an especially useful book to read in our in-between moment, in the wake of the great disruption of a global pandemic,” McCrea adds. “It warns us of the pitfalls – mental, moral, psychic – that a transition back to “normality” always occasions, and offers reflections on how we are changed by the experience of catastrophe, and how to go about restoring ourselves to daily life after a long interruption.”

“Through Prof. Barry McCrea’s reflections, we are reminded of the extraordinary power of literature to illuminate our collective and individual lives” says Silvia Dall’Olio, Director of the Rome Global Gateway. “We are grateful for his generosity in engaging with the Rome Book Club community in what promises to be a transformative conversation.”

“Primo Levi’s The Truce: a guide to returning to life” will include commentaries, videos, and weekly interactive Zoom sessions. The program is free and open to all, and is hosted exclusively on ThinkND, Notre Dame’s open, online learning community brought to you by the Alumni Association.

Register

Originally published by Costanza Montanari at rome.nd.edu on October 26, 2021.