Thursday, 16 August, 2018

How Philip Roth's Writing Transcended The Narrow Confines Of A Culture

Philip Roth Philip Roth
Diane Mills | 26 May, 2018, 10:57

Roth, the author of groundbreaking works such as "Portnoy's Complaint", "Goodbye Columbus" and "The Human Stain", died of congestive heart failure, said friend and fellow writer Judith Thurman.

His "maleness" offended many readers, with his 1969 book Portnoy's Complaint, about the young, middle-class, sex-obsessed Alexander Portnoy leaving critics happy and elders enraged. Some anxious that his work would endanger American Jews, providing fodder for anti-Semites. "As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe", he said.

If Philip Roth is credited with a damning premonition of the Trump presidency in his 2004 novel "The Plot Against America", the late novelist was profoundly shocked by the reality of 21st century USA politics.

Roth's 1998 novel "I Married a Communist" is told against the backdrop of McCarthyism. His career spanned 50 years, 30 books, three PEN/Faulkners, two National Book Awards, and one Pulitzer. But he received virtually every other literary honour, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle prizes and, in 1998, the Pulitzer for American Pastoral. "Time heals all wounds", Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles remarked to JTA via email at the time. And in 2012, he officially announced that he did.

As the news of his death spread, commentators shared their loved quotes from the author's work and considered his legacy in American literature. "We are grateful for the mirror even if not everything you see in it is easy".

Philip Milton Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the grandson of European Jews who were part of the 19th Century wave of immigration to the United States. The novella won him his first National Book Award in 1960 and sold more than 12,000 copies in hardback. A short story in the collection - Defender of the Faith - was about a Jewish army officer's conflict with Jewish soldiers trying to avoid combat duty.

Roth went on to further eviscerate Trump, who he called "humanly impoverished" compared to other former presidents. "His endings tend to the tragic".

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Usually set in his birthplace New Jersey, Philip Roth's fiction was known for its autobiographical nature.

Roth, however, often demurred when it was suggested that he should be defined as an American Jewish writer.

"There was nothing more for me to write about", he told the BBC in 2014.

But with women often portrayed as little more than objects amid the lustful agonising of privileged heterosexual men, Roth's work was frequently labelled misogynistic.

Nevertheless, appreciation abounded for Roth's contributions to the Jewish world, including his championing of writers from Eastern Europe.

Gunn shared a photo of the cover of Roth's book The Counterlife on Twitter, writing: "RIP Philip Roth".

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