cover image Speak You Also: A Survivor's Reckoning

Speak You Also: A Survivor's Reckoning

Paul Steinberg. Metropolitan Books, $21 (163pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6064-5

In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi describes Henri, a fellow inmate at Auschwitz, as a strategist of survival: flattering, stealing and endlessly manipulating the kapos and other prisoners for his own survival. Levi's empathy is challenged as Henri instills in Levi ""a slight sense of defeat"" and the fear that Levi has been ""not a man to him, but an instrument in his hands."" Now, 40 years later, SteinbergDthe ""Henri"" of Levi's bookDhas written his own memoir, which is both an answer to the other man's work and an explanation of his life and actions. Written in spare, highly unsentimental prose not unlike Levi's, balancing stark, horrific descriptions of life in the camps with self-critical meditations on the very purpose of writing such a memoir, Steinberg's book stands as a shocking rejoinder to Levi. Detailing his arrestDhe was a brilliant 16-year-old student in France when he was deported to AuschwitzDand his life at the camp, Steinberg describes himself as crossing the ""gulf that separates adolescence... and adulthood"" by deciding to ""become a player in the game"": ""that cold and calculating creature singled out by Levi."" Unrelenting in his descriptions of his plans for survivalDbefriending and sharing choice food with a brutal camp kapo, using violence against an elderly Jewish inmate to reinforce Steinberg's own position of security, and lying about being JewishDthe author is unapologetic for how he survived. With brutal honesty and frightening self-examination, Steinberg dissects himself and forces readers to reexamine what morality means in the face of unremitting horror. (Oct.)