Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Pripet Marshes

*Pripet Marshes. Camp in western Russia built by one man around a downed aircraft that establishes the theme of personally created space. This is then expanded in the “Republic of the Marshes,” a refuge built in relative safety on the hummocks of the Pripet Marshes of Belorussia. As a makeshift social group of resistance fighters coalesces but moves on, other forms of shelter are briefly occupied, such as a set of chambers dug out from the shaft of a well.


*Poland. Eastern European country caught between warring Germany and Russia. Although place is always being reidentified, as territory is yielded by the Germans or retaken by the Russians, the war is more than territorial. For many, not only place but also community has been eradicated: the destruction of Jewish towns, followed by the mass murder of Jews in the death camps. Even Poland itself risks disappearance. Earlier divided between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany into zones of intended future influence, it is now being fought over. As the tide of war turns against the Germans, the partisans, with Mendel at the focus of the reader’s attention, move westward behind enemy lines both to escape shelling and to continue their guerrilla war of harassment in the chaos of the once victorious army now falling back. Specific towns, rivers, and districts are mentioned early in the novel but the partisans’ local knowledge is soon exhausted and they move westward into a nameless landscape and collapsing social order.


*Germany. Belligerent country through whose eastern region the...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Eberstadt, Fernanda. “Reading Primo Levi.” Commentary 80 (October, 1985): 41-47. Discusses Levi’s style, precision, irony, wit, and understatement. Eberstadt pronounces If Not Now, When? an artistic failure in spite of its important and engrossing subject.

Howe, Irving. “Primo Levi: An Appreciation.” In If Not Now, When?, by Primo Levi. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Discusses Levi’s use of imagination and adventure in the novel.

Hughes, H. Stuart. Prisoners of Hope: The Silver Age of the Italian Jews 1924-1974. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. Discussion of six prose writers. Places Levi’s work in the context of his background as an Italian Jew.

Roth, Philip. “Afterword: A Conversation with Primo Levi.” In Survival in Auschwitz, by Primo Levi, translated by Stuart Woolf. New York: Collier Books, 1993. Offers Levi’s statements about what motivated him to write If Not Now, When?

Tager, Michael. “Primo Levi and the Language of Witness.” Criticism 35, no. 2 (Spring, 1993): 265-288. A thoroughly researched and documented discussion of Levi’s use of language. The theme of language as identity is found throughout the dramatic action of If Not Now, When?