The Periodic Table

by Primo Levi

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What is a summary of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi?

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This novel is an incredibly fascinating way of discussing the Holocaust from a unique view point. Primo Levi, who has written other famous books detailing his personal experience of the Holocaust, was also a professional chemist, and this book yokes the two careers of writing and being a chemist firmly together. This book is a memoir, and each chapter is named after an element in the Periodic Table and explores his work as a chemist and relates that work to the rest of his life.

Although each separate chapter is able to be read and studied by itself, analysing them as a whole indicates that as the chapters progress, so does Levi's perception and understanding of life. As his knowledge of chemistry grows, so does the depth of his understanding about life and what it means to be alive. The discussion of the elements allows Levi to take a chronological approach in this work, taking us through his life from before the war, through his experiences in a concentration camp and afterwards.

There is a tremendous mix in terms of style in the different chapters, and in the twenty-one elements that are focused upon there are fables, mystery stories and puzzling accounts with no clear resolution. Every chapter is unique in terms of its style. Although Levi writes about his life, this novel uses the form of a memoir as it gives Levi the flexibility of being able to pick and choose what parts of his life he wants to focus on.


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