Books: The War Against Forgetfulness THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED

Eight months ago, Primo Levi leaped into the stairwell outside the fourth- floor Turin apartment where his family had lived for three generations. There was little question that he killed himself intentionally. Renzo Levi said that his 67-year-old father had been depressed; friends spoke of Levi's dark moods. Yet despair was not what the outside world detected last year after Philip Roth climbed those stairs to interview Levi in his study. "He seemed to me," wrote the American novelist, "inwardly animated more in the manner of some little quicksilver woodland creature empowered by the forest's most astute intelligence."

To say nothing...