- Primo Levi. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, and his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945.
It is prefaced by this poem
- If This Is a Man
- You who live safe
- In your warm houses,
- You who find, returning in the evening,
- Hot food and friendly faces:
- Consider if this is a man
- Who works in the mud,
- Who does not know peace,
- Who fights for a scrap of bread,
- Who dies because of a yes or a no.
- Consider if this is a woman
- Without hair and without name,
- With no more strength to remember,
- Her eyes empty and her womb cold
- Like a frog in winter.
- Meditate that this came about:
- I commend these words to you.
- Carve them in your hearts
- At home, in the street,
- Going to bed, rising;
- Repeat them to your children.
- Or may your house fall apart,
- May illness impede you,
- May your children turn their faces from you.
After total reconstructive surgery, with 80 titanium screws holding her new face on, she looks more or less normal – but no longer anything like her old self. Her modelling career seems finished; but she has the chance of a new career as one of the faces on a new reality website.
It's impossible to sum up this sharp, clever, complex, satirical novel in a few plotlines; but other significant characters include another Charlotte, teenage daughter of Swenson's old schoolfriend, alienated, disaffected and ready for an affair with her new maths teacher; and Moose, the younger Charlotte's uncle, an academic who nearly blew up all his students, and who believes that Western civilisation truly began when the invention of glass let in the light, and is declining now that we see nothing but surfaces.
First published in 2001, Look at Me now appears alarmingly prescient. Since it was written, our obsession with appearance has grown and so has our fascination with reality shows – not to mention the dark undercurrent of terrorism within Western society. I can't do this 514-page novel justice in 250 words. It's funny and serious, dry, sly and wry. The writing is as pin-sharp as the perceptions. (from The Independent')