I first came across Primo Levi’s work many years ago when I picked up a copy of his book “The Periodic Table” – simply because it had a recommendation from Italo Calvino on the cover! It transpired that Calvino had been Levi’s editor while the former worked for the Italian publishing house of Einaudi. Like most people who read it at the time, I was knocked out by “The Periodic Table” and since then have read most of Levi’s books – gruelling though many of them are.

“A Tranquil Star” is a collection of some of Levi’s short stories and it is subtitled “Unpublished Stories” which is an odd statement, since most of these stories were in fact published decades ago. What in fact this volume is, is a selection of stories from a variety of Italian sources which have not been translated into English before. Although I would agree with the statement quoted from The Herald on the back of the books which says “We are blessed with this collection”, I do feel it lacks a little homogeneity.

The first section of the book has earlier stories, one of which dates back to 1949, and these are initially a little more straightforward. However, the last story in this section, “In the Park”, was first published in 1971 and shows how much Levi had moved from realism to a more fantastical style – possibly under the influence of Calvino?

The second part of the book has a variety of stories, several futuristic, some which could be called science fiction and some which are just unclassifiable! All are beautifully written and very thought-provoking, particularly the title story which shows how huge celestial events can affect the daily lives of us here on planet Earth.

My main quibble is, why select just a few stories to be translated? The foreword implies that Levi’s complete works are in preparation and I can’t help thinking that a collected short stories would be a much better option. Levi’s work is superb and varied, and to read just a few stories in isolation, apparently as some kind of introduction for American readers, doesn’t do him justice.

In the end, the stories I probably enjoyed most were “In The Park” (funny and rather clever), “The Magic Paint” (very inventive and with quite a shocking end) and “One Night” (downright weird and a big scary). I await Levi’s collected works with bated breath!