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.
"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)
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.
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 .
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.
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.
He really makes the listener feel that our main character is speaking.
Perhaps the girlfriend. I really must persuade her to work harder on this relationship--even now.
I will read and listen to more by these two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the main character looks back and explains why he did not marry his fiance.
The main character - so honest and hard on himself. He blamed himself for everything.
The main character - to try to comfort him.
A Jewish community in the mid 1940s during the war. At the playground kids begin to fall with polio. Mesmerizing.
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.
Among America's aging literary royalty, Philip Roth seems to be the most reliable at delivering great stories. Unlike - say - John Irving, Roth is able to parse his world and tell one tightly focused narrative full of characters that are likable - a seemingly small trick but one that makes all the difference in a reader's or listener's enjoyment of the story. In this respect Roth has taken over for Updike.
This isn't a happy story, but it is not full of unhappy people trudging along to the end. Instead, Nemesis paints a picture of how - even in the worst of circumstances where disease and war are the new normal - people deal with life with dignity and bravery.
Typical Philip Roth...all the hand ringing and self questioning of the hero...who is truly a super star. The angst we all experience...on steroids. Interesting plot. Great job of capturing the era. Interesting and entertaining listen.
A fantastic, haunting story that is beautifully told in thid audio version. the evocation of a terrified 1940s summer is stunning.
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