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Nemesis | [Philip Roth]

Nemesis

At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful 23-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantors dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground and on the everyday realities he faces, Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed.
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Publisher's Summary

This is the startling theme of Philip Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful 23-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries.

Focusing on Cantor's dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground and on the everyday realities he faces, Roth leads us through every inch of the emotions such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, anger, bewilderment, suffering, and pain. Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine childrens summer camp high in the Poconos whose "mountain air was purified of all contaminants", Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantors passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.

Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roths late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?

©2010 Philip Roth (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Nemesis stands out for its warmth. It is suffused with precise and painful tenderness…. The architecture of Roth's sentences is almost invisibly elegant; not only doesn't one notice the art, one barely notices the sentence, registering instead pure function: meaning, rhythm, intent." (The New York Times Book Review)
"The fourth in the great and undiminished Roth's recent cycle of short novels.... [A]s exceptional as those novels are, this latest in the series far exceeds its predecessors in both emotion and intellect." (Booklist)

"Having the youthful-sounding Dennis Boutsikaris narrate a book written by an older man is an interesting production choice. Philip Roth wrestles with some of the more harrowing themes of aging in his recent work. The story is told from the perspective of a 23-year-old man who is weathering a polio epidemic in 1943. But it is clearly coming from the wisdom and perspective of one of the elders in American letters. This disparity serves the audio production well. Boutsikaris lends a credibility to the novel’s observations and to their source, strengthening the protagonist’s 'voice' while losing none of the wisdom gleaned from the author’s having been there, long ago." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (289 )
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4.1 (164 )
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  •  
    Mirek Lodz, Poland 11-21-10
    Mirek Lodz, Poland 11-21-10 Member Since 2004
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    "Without pathos about life..."

    After „The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth, I knew that he is a great and deep writer.

    However — his latest novel „Nemesis” is one of the best books I ever read.

    It is a story of young man, the teacher of physical education and passionate javelin thrower. The story is set in 1944 during one of the worst American polio epidemics. As he could not go to the army, the hero was already discontent of himself when the plot of events related to the epidemics and the events of his personal life caused a major self oppression and the unbearable conviction of guilt.

    It is a great book about insecurity a man can experience, about guilt and punishment and about human rebellion against G-d due to overwhelming sense of undeserved suffering of many...

    And ultimately it is a book about the triumph of human freedom of choice...

    In his short book, and in the simple words, Roth once again comes to the main theme of Job's bible book (without, of course, any direct reference to it) and to the most important problems that face humans — without pathos and sanctimonious deliberations...

    THE great novel.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eli Jerusalem, Israel 04-17-11
    Eli Jerusalem, Israel 04-17-11 Member Since 2007
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    "Fantastic Book"

    My mother was born in 1929 and got polio when she was about one year old. I never even knew that Polio was a contagious disease until listening to this book (although it takes place in the 40s and not during the time when my mom caught polio). She suffered terribly from post-polio syndrome later in life.
    I loved the book because it showed 1940s American Jews from an angle I have previously not seen them. The main character is lovable, flawed and inspiring.
    I never, never re-read a book, watch a movie twice or listen to a book more than once.
    But I plan to listen to nemesis again because the book has many different levels (plot, character development, social characterization) and I feel like I missed many nuances the first time .

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rochelle Dunedin, New Zealand 02-23-13
    Rochelle Dunedin, New Zealand 02-23-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Disappointing"

    I've enjoyed a number of Philip Roth's novels but this one did not do it for me.

    Throughout the book I just wanted to kick the main character. To me he came across as paranoid & hypochondriac & then later in the book as purely pathetic.

    Admittedly it would've been simple to turn this into some smarmy, inspirational "overcome all obstacles" type of story. By going the other way it didn't do itself any favours. I think that it needed to go somewhere between extremes & less predictable.

    What the character endures is not easy by any imagining but he does himself no favours. It's hard to imagine that he'd have faced any adversity in his life & come through it well. Admittedly it's hard to know how much it is about his own condition & how much is guilt, but in the end it makes no difference. He seems not to care much about his own life, and that's how I felt about him too.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shirlene East Grand Forks, MN, United States 11-19-12
    Shirlene East Grand Forks, MN, United States 11-19-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Very good read!"
    What made the experience of listening to Nemesis the most enjoyable?

    I was born in 1939, so could really relate to the "fear" surrounding the threat of Polio, especially during the summer months. I had a classmate who was crippled with this disease, and her life leaves me with feelings of sadness , as does the main character.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Nemesis?

    When this man of talents and compassion gives up the most important things in his life, as he thinks best. Tho we the listeners do not.


    What does Dennis Boutsikaris bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He really makes the listener feel that our main character is speaking.


    If you could take any character from Nemesis out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Perhaps the girlfriend. I really must persuade her to work harder on this relationship--even now.


    Any additional comments?

    I will read and listen to more by these two.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B. Leddy NY 02-19-12
    B. Leddy NY 02-19-12 Member Since 2007

    bleddy

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    "Really, really good"

    This was a great book about how a seemingly grounded, solid, well balanced reflective and intelligent person can become twisted into a spiritually and mentally maimed individual through a series of bad knocks / bad luck. It was a sad story but it really hits you in the solar plexus.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Berkeley, CA, United States 01-11-11
    David Berkeley, CA, United States 01-11-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Brilliant"

    Unlike many of Roth's recent novels, this book is NOT about the angst of aging and facing death. Instead the young protagonist must face life, how chance, foreign enemies affect the choices he makes. Can he live with the choices he made? What is more crippling - loss and disease, or how we live after they strike? I just finished reading this and sobbing. The story and main character are sweet, earnest, and dignified.
    I think it is a masterpiece.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gail Seattle, WA, United States 02-17-14
    Gail Seattle, WA, United States 02-17-14 Member Since 2007
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    Story
    "Salk "... no patent. Could you patent the Sun?""

    In times of rare insight, we realize we celebrate the wrong heroes in life and books. I write this on President's day, but what did they do remotely equal to the hero of this story? This is the Most important of the 3,250+ books I've listened to on Audible. Whether like me you have been going along just fine only to suddenly hold your dying child in your arms ~ or not...you will understand some levels of the pathos felt by post WWII people worldwide. Second only to the Atom bomb Americans feared polio because its' cause was a mystery. Remember just prior to WWII children often died of simple scrapes until penicillin came into use. It was the way life was. Then Fleming and penicillin. A co-Nobel laureate worried that the discovery of penicillin would cause too many children to survive childhood thus resulting in global over-population. Can you imagine? In this book we live with powerfully drawn characters in the 1940-50's at a time when no one had a clue what caused polio. You will weep but learn how to survive and help those living through the worst of all fear and death of children...and adults. If you had a child die you (and 100,000+ others at the worst) became a pariah...accused of poor house keeping, not being a good parent less moral, wrong race...etc.. What would you do to try to keep your child from contacting this mystery disease? Roth gets it correct in a powerful, true to life engaging story. You will be better for having read this book, IMHO. Jonas Salk is the true hero of the last century along with Fleming. In Salk's case, this hero did not enrich himself and would not patent the polio vaccine. When asked how rich he was getting from the patent...he said there was no patent. "Could you patent the Sun?" He shines as does every word in this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mr. D Idaho, United States 02-16-14
    Mr. D Idaho, United States 02-16-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Well crafted but..."
    Any additional comments?

    This is a well written novel by an author I am getting to know. I do like his work. This novel, although well written, lacks that something special to really draw me in. It is early yet but I don't believe I will be thinking about it days after finishing. That is the mark of a good book, in my view. My reading interests are in transition. I find character driven fiction more to my liking these days, and this book is that. I didn't go into this book expecting a plot driven story. For me, what this story lacks is compelling characters. They were not as developed as I prefer. The story is short enough that I would recommend it. Any longer and I may have lost interest. I do feel that the ending finished stronger than I was expecting.

    The book does provide some perspective to those of us that did not live during the time polio was an incurable, unknown disease. In this day and age, it is so easy to take so much for granted.

    The narrator did a very good job. A poor narrator - you notice he/she is there, a good narrator - you don't notice he is there, an excellent narrator - you are glad he is there. I didn't notice him so he must have done a good job. I will have to listen to more by him but he has the potential to be excellent.

    If you are new to Phillip Roth, it may be better to start with something else. My first by him was Portnoy's Complaint. It was excellent, I hope it didn't set the bar too high.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia San Diego, CA, United States 01-11-13
    Patricia San Diego, CA, United States 01-11-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Philip Roth at his best"
    What made the experience of listening to Nemesis the most enjoyable?

    The writing by Roth, the wonderful reading - just perfect - and a look at how the polic epidemic affected ordinary families. I was child in the 50s when the fear of it hung over families and then came the wonderful vaccine. But it was too late for those who went before.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Nemesis?

    When the main character looks back and explains why he did not marry his fiance.


    Which character – as performed by Dennis Boutsikaris – was your favorite?

    The main character - so honest and hard on himself. He blamed himself for everything.


    If you could take any character from Nemesis out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    The main character - to try to comfort him.


    Any additional comments?

    A Jewish community in the mid 1940s during the war. At the playground kids begin to fall with polio. Mesmerizing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    glamazon The Coast of Rhode Island 11-04-10
    glamazon The Coast of Rhode Island 11-04-10 Member Since 2003

    glam

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    "More Man Fic"

    I am finding these later Philip Roth novels too full of men and manly activities, manly thoughts. As Roth's elegant, luxuriant prose rambles on and on about guy stuff, the reader - at least this reader - becomes almost annoyed. It's enough already! As a lover of the English language and a logophile, and especially as a Philip Roth fan, I just hate to see this happen. He sounds like nothing more or less than the loquacious old uncle, loving to hear himself talk, at a holiday dinner and I want to be excused from the table.

    Add to that, these two characters are not interesting in themselves, only interesting because of their disease. And Roth keeps on using the word "crippled", in accordance, I assume, with the language of the day. But it's still a cringe-worthy word.

    I also had difficulty figuring out who was talking - the narrator or the main character. The novel is told by an acquaintance of Bucky Cantor, not by the protagionist, Cantor, and the confusion of the two was not resolved well.

    I will say this in favor of the narrator. He is the voice of Philip Roth, and I enjoyed listening to his accent-free, gimmick- and drama-free reading.

    I want Philip Roth to go back to writing novels like The Human Stain, full of conflict and relationship ambiguity, instead of this manly stuff.

    12 of 19 people found this review helpful
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  • Lawrie
    SheffieldUnited Kingdom
    2/1/11
    Overall
    "Nemesis"

    A fantastic, haunting story that is beautifully told in thid audio version. the evocation of a terrified 1940s summer is stunning.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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