By Primo Levi
With Bernardo De Benedetti
Translated from the Italian by Judith Woolf
Verso. 97 pp. $17.95
A Search for Six of Six Million
By Daniel Mendelsohn
HarperCollins. 512 pp. $27.95
And why this particular memory that can only do harm, that can only cast doubt on man and his weaknesses? Why answer its calls and its silences? Why do we struggle to remember, to bring back a past that shames not only creation but the Creator himself? Do we do it to suffer at second degree -- with those and for those who suffered before? Or is it simply to know? To understand? Or, even more, to plumb the depths of a human soul, bloodied and bowed, at a time when evil had usurped the power of gods to judge who lived, who died, and how, and for what reason?
Here are two works: different in style and approach, but joined by the common theme of a nagging memory -- its layers, obligations, traps. Memory's limits, too. One is written by someone who survived the dark days; the other, by a younger writer, who hunts through the dark in order to comprehend it.