Literary translators, especially those who translate from Italian to English, have been anxiously awaiting publication of this massive work. Not only because Levi is one of the important Italian writers of the 20th century, but even more so because these are new translations by the finest and best-known Italian-English translators working today: including Ann Goldstein, Anne Milano Appel, Antony Shugaar, Jonathan Galassi, and Michael Moore. All the big names, except perhaps Parks himself.
It was quite a surprise, therefore, to read the entire 3-page review and find not one mention of the translators or their translations. Now, anyone who has read Primo Levi in English knows that all, or virtually all, of his works have been translated before, and that they have been well received by Anglophone readers and critics, and admired by Levi’s fellow writers, such as Philip Roth. The news here is not Levi’s works or his status as a writer but the huge commitment of the publisher, Liveright and funding sources, like the National Endowments, to finance this project, not to mention the translators themselves who have translated nearly 3,000 pages of Levi’s prose and poetry.
The NYRB’s decision to review the new translations and its decision to assign the review to Parks – translator of Calvino and Leopardi among others - was a golden opportunity to compare the new translations to the old ones, to explain to readers why they should or shouldn’t bother to read Levi (again or for the first time) in these new translations, to bring a large and influential readership into a discussion about literature in translation. Alas, it is an opportunity that Parks decided to ignore. Why so? I have no idea, but I can’t let it pass without voicing my displeasure at the disservice he and the NYRB have done to Levi’s translators, old and new, to Liveright, and to literary translation in general. After reading the review, it seems fair to say that Parks has indeed read Primo Levi, but we have no way of knowing if he has read the new translations. Let’s hope that other reviewers and other literary reviews do better.