Primo Levi, “A Tranquil Star”

A star is going out in a blaze of glory.

(From The New Yorker, Feb. 12, 2007)

If this story must be written, we must have the courage to eliminate all adjectives that tend to excite wonder: they would achieve the opposite effect, of impoverishing the narrative.

The main character in this short short story is a star. The narrator observes that language fails to do the star justice. It’s “big” and “hot” and “very far away,” but those words aren’t just imprecise, they’re too often used to describe things occurring on a human scale. Stars are too big to call “big.” This cool little tangent sets the tone. After a full page of the star story — I won’t spoil the ending — there’s a half page switcheroo about an astronomer whose plans are upended by something a big, hot, very far away star did. Cool story.
Read it here.
It’s translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

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