Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 1998Philip Roth presents a vivid portrait of an innocent man being swept away by a current of conflict and violence in his own backyard - a story that is as much about loving America as it is hating it. Seymour "Swede" Levov, a legendary high school athlete, a devoted family man, a hard worker, and the prosperous heir of his father's Newark glove factory comes of age in thriving, triumphant postwar America. But everything he loves is lost when the country begins to run amok in the turbulent 1960s. Not even a most private, well-intentioned citizen, it seems, gets to sidestep the sweep of history. American Pastoral is the story of a fortunate American's rise and fall ... a strong, confident man, a master of social equilibrium, overwhelmed by the forces of social disorder. For the Swede is not allowed to stay forever blissful living out life in rural Old Rimrock in his 170 year-old stone farmhouse with his pretty wife (his college sweetheart and Miss New Jersey of 1949) and his lively albeit precocious daughter, the apple of his eye ... that is until she grows up to become a revolutionary terrorist.
©1997 Philip Roth (P)1997 by Dove Audio, (P) 2014 by Phoenix Books
Audie Award Winner, Best Solo Narration by a Male, 1998
"One of Roth's most powerful novels ever...moving, generous and ambitious...a fiercely affecting work of art." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
"Dazzling...a wrenching, compassionate, intelligent novel...gorgeous." (Boston Globe)
"At once expansive and painstakingly detailed.... The pages of American Pastoral crackle with the electricity and zest of a first-rate mind at work." (San Francisco Chronicle)
I usually don't read fiction, but this is one of the best audio books I've ever experienced of any genre. You will quickly see why Roth is considered one of the greatest American writers of the last fifty years and the naration only adds to the experience. Some books hold my attention better on audio and some on the printed page. This is a masterpiece of both audio and the written word. It will hold your attention from beginning to end.
This is one of THE best books I have ever encountered! These Roth characters are even more flawed, more human, than in his previous novels. The story is both broad, in the number of decades it covers, and deep, in its microscopic look at the impact of events on one man's life. Roth demonstrates with vigor and mastery the differences between generations, and the pain we each feel in our inability to grasp what people of a different age find important. The writing, as always, is lyrical and wandering, which considering the Jewish culture he writes about, is fitting, funny, and stinging. The narrator, Ron Silver, brings the Jewish angst to life well with his inflections.
I have already listened to passages over again, which after 14 plus hours says something about the strength of the descriptive passages, dialogue and ideas presented. And I will listen to this book again. It is a keeper. Although I never did anything quite as extreme as the daughter, Merry, this novel gave me a taste of what went through my parent's minds when I was in high school and college, pursuing passions of my own generation. An incredible read!
What a book! Expertly narrated and beautifully written. A story that sticks with the reader long after the recording ends. Filled with raw human emotion that leaves the reader feeling they understand these characters and their lives inside out. A keeper that I can whole heartedly recommend if you want to be captivated and swept up in a story that is difficult to put down. One of the rare times that I carried my iPod around with me as I did my chores so I could keep listening. Just plain terrific storytelling!
First, the reader is excellent. But he is reading a masterpiece. American Pastoral brilliant. Through the eyes of one family and the narrator, Roth captures the essence of the changes and turmoil that shook the country in the 60s and 70s. The narrative technique, the narrative itself, the dialogue, so many turns of phrase, really deliver a powerful emotional message. I don't know whether i would have enjoyed it as much without the wonderful narrator. Even though I had already listened to it, I chose it as a book for a long car trip and my husband loved it too. I liked it even more the second time. So much nuance.
While I am not unsympathetic to cydscott's harsh but incisive observations (and indeed I urge you to read his/her review for balance), I experienced the book very differently. Contrary to the impression that the above mentioned review conveys, American Pastoral is not simply about the philosophical musings of an amateur psychoanalyst and unprogressive biographer. True it is that some of those musings can be a bit annoying, but they do serve a purpose in the story: we are presented with an unreliable narrator, one who stumbles rather badly in trying to make sense of the story of his subject, both adding to the sensation of mystery that a stranger's life can have upon us, and reminding us of the clumsiness with which we attempt to understand one another.
But perhaps the most memorable quality of American Pastoral for me as a reader is the intense tenderness with which Roth views some of his characters. (I do agree, however, with cydscott's complaint--if I understand it correctly--that women characters are portrayed in a more troubling way.) Whatever one may think of some of the narrator's fabrications, the story is in the end remarkably moving, and it chronicles the terrifying reverberations of a complicated moment in American History in the life of an ordinary American family.
Ron Silver the actor reads this wonderful book. His distinctive voice may take a few minutes to adjust to, but his new york accent is perfectly matched to the text. His rendering is masterful. I've not read the book but can't image this isn't one of those where the reader actually improves this Pulitzer winner.
No matter what the writers of Justified think, no self-respecting mafia would live in Frankfort, Kentucky.
I miss stories this well told, characters this well drawn, human-frailty this deeply felt.
But what elevated this book as an audio offering was the reading of Ron Silver. After having so many books ruined by utterly tone-deaf readings, it was a pleasure to finally encounter a reader that seemed to really understand what the book required. It is a hell of a performance. Other authors should be so lucky.
Roth caught the essence of American cultural history over the last century and also the central dynamics of family psychology -- a particularly insightful look at the difference between the surface and the inside of people. It has a Jewish coloring -- but is not a Jewish book. Ron Silver does an absolutely great job with Jewish inflection and self-reflection. I found myself frequently telling others about the ideas and insights in this book.
This is the 10th or 12th audiobook to which I've listened on Audible.com, and far and above the rest of them (most of which are more "popular" or "populist" titles) this one is relentless. It's both impossible to listen to, and impossible to put down.
It's not a novel of plot, though there is one, and it's not a novel of characters, though there are many of them and they are very well drawn. Rather, it's a novel of images, and a novel of feelings, and a novel of writing. It's the most well written of the novels to which I've listened, especially since I find that I enjoy the languid descriptions and sections of prose that Roth uses. It's a story of what happens when an original sinner interacts with humans of all ilks, angels and demons alike. It's a story of nature (of the human kind) and nurture (of the human kind) and interactions (of the human kind) and above all, it's the story of people.
I've burned through many books in my lifetime. The only ones that stick with me are those that reached in and broke me in some way. I am not Jewish and don't feel that it's a book only Jewish people would get. In fact, I've recommended it to Jewish people to read and they didn't seem to 'get it.' I think I like it because it answered a very big question that I always had in my head. Growing up back east, you knew your grandparents generation were the good guys. Then everything in this country fell apart in the 70's. Since that is before my time, this novel singlehandely answered why this country went to the crapper and why all the east coast cities like Baltimore and Newark are more or less minature welfare states. This novel is much more than that. And it has resonated as I've grown up to raise children and considered the father/daughter relationship in this book. It is not a light read. It's a horror novel of real life. The ending blew me away.
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