To Drive the Cold Winter Away

A writer’s voice rises from a unique place, there where it is strongest, clearest.

The place from which I write is that moment, years ago, when I heard my death sentence: I was told I had incurable cancer. In that instant I glimpsed the immensity of my solitude and I felt a profound need to reconnect with other people, to feel the hands and eyes of others upon me.

The place my voice comes from is that sense of abandonment when facing death. There where my human nakedness and poverty gave me the indelible feeling of belonging to the human race, the feeling that everyone who has experienced poverty and nakedness of any kind is my brother.

In that place there stirs the man grateful to the writers who offered him strength—Primo Levi, Charlotte Delbo, Etty Hillesum, Simone Weil, Montaigne, and others. Authors who helped him get back on his feet, to stay alive inside. While other people did the physical healing.

In that place there stirs the man who thinks the only urgent thing (which has now become his whole life) is to write, to try to provide some strength there where almost none remains—the strength we need in times of misfortune. That is when literature acquires its dazzling significance: it is a way of becoming a fully human being without overlooking any of humanity’s meanness, violence, or idolized symbols, contemplating the world while holding all that—sunshine and shadow—inside.