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Una radice nascosta di Primo Levi: Herv. Bazin e Les bienheureux de la Désolation

Giusi Baldissone


Reading the short story Mercury, in The Periodic Table, we are struck by a reference to certain things that happened on the island of Tristan da Cunha (Levi calls it ‘Desolation’), which may have inspired this particular story. Herv. Bazin’s use of the word ‘desolation’ in his best-selling Les bienheureux de la Désolation, (1970, translated into Italian in 1971), brings to mind Levi’s story, which, however, was written before World War II – or so it was generally believed. This unusual epithet was found to be particularly appropriate during the volcanic eruption that took place in 1961, when the 264 inhabitants of the island have to be evacuated to Britain. They never adapted to consumer society and most of them went back to Tristan two years later. Scholars in Italy have failed to see the connection between Bazin’s novel and Levi’s Mercury, but textual analysis reveals that Levi’s source is indeed Bazin. Furthermore, two months before he died, Levi confessed that he had manipulated the date of composition of his short story, though he never actually revealed his source, and the interviewer of the time did not discover it.

Parole chiave

French literary source for Mercury; reception of the name Désolation; new date.

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