Primo Levi, Italy, Italian language, partisan, Auschwitz, fascism, literature


Published in 1982, Se non ora, quando? (If Not Now, When?) is Primo Levi's first novel proper. Perhaps Primo Levi is regretted not fully living life as an Italian Jewish partisan that he re-created his lost dream through its pages, and had his partisan brigade not been captured, perhaps Levi's underground fighting might have continued until the end of the war. If Not Now, When? thus might reflect Levi's need to explore that sought-after life as a partisan, which he had been denied after only three months of activity. Did Live write If Not Now, When? as a mental antidote to his arrest? Was he trying to re-create for himself the underground world of freedom fighters, which he was not able to fulfill? Edoardo Bianchini points out that the main theme of the novel is to reclaim human dignity. During the time in which the fictional core of If Not Now, When? takes place, Primo Levi was a prisoner in Auschwitz. Since it is obvious that, while Levi was interned, he could not simultaneously also be a fee man, I propose here that If Not Now, When? might be read and understood as the "other" story, the narrative of that partisan experience that Levi did not live in full, the story of his destroyed dream as an aspiring freedom fighter against the Nazi and Fascist tragedy. I submit, then, the the narrative of If Not Now, When? develops the theme of Levi's doppelganger through the discourse of a fictional, projected alter-ego protagonist. In the novel, Levi focuses on the vicissitudes of a group of Jewish partisan fighters of Eastern Europe, celebrating their courage and writing about their adventures perhaps as a way to counteract the misperception that Jews went to the gas chambers without trying to resist arrest and deportation.

Original Publication Citation

"The Partisan and His Doppelganger: The Case of Primo Levi," in Answering Auschwitz: Primo Levi's Science and Humanism after the Fall, ed. Stanislao Pugliese (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2011): 114 -126.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Fordham University Press






French and Italian

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor