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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.

Critic Reviews

"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

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This Kid got it, that kid got it...

After listening and liking Indignation, I wanted to listen to more by Roth. This book is good in the historical sense. You get a feeling of what life was like back then, especially for Jews and all kids. My dad was born in 1935 and he never learned how to swim, cause his parents would not let him go to a public pool, afraid he would get polio. It was a scary time for Americans.

While I believe it is important to be reminded, I believe a novel should be a novel and a research paper a research paper. This book meanders all over the place. Character development was nihil. Roth gives us a list of kids who contract the disease, he gives us a list of what the common people believe causes it, but it is at the cost of the story or lack there of. He also gives us commentary. I might as well had taken a college course.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Mirek
  • Lodz, Poland
  • 11-21-10

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Eli
  • Jerusalem, Israel
  • 04-17-11

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 .

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Berkeley, CA, United States
  • 01-11-11


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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 10-18-16

Not Great Roth, but Not Great Roth STILL Very Good

It wasn't great Roth, but I've got to say almost any Roth is going to be pretty d@#n good. This one focuses on a polio epidemic in 1944. It seems like late in Roth's writing career, after going on one of the greatest runs of 5 star literature ever, Roth spent a decade writing high little novellas that allowed him to explore delicate themes. These books seem to me, the equivalent of Frank Lloyd Wright spending his last years working just on chairs and desks. So, yes, petty d@#n good, but in the end they just aren't the things that will be remembered about Roth. They are his funky chairs, just not his holy houses.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Gail
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 02-17-14

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 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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. D
  • Idaho, United States
  • 02-16-14

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Shirlene
  • East Grand Forks, MN, United States
  • 11-19-12

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

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  • Lawrie
  • 02-01-11


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