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American Pastoral [Hardcover]

Philip Roth
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jun 1997
Philip Roth's fiction has often explored the human need to demolish, to challenge, to oppose, to pull apart. Now, writing with deep understanding, with enormous power and scope and great storytelling energy, he focuses on the counterforce: the longing for an ordinary life. Seymour 'Swede' Levov - a legendary high school athlete, a devoted family man, a hard worker, the prosperous inheritor of his father's glove factory - comes of age in thriving, triumphant, postwar America. He has a beautiful wife - Miss New Jersey 1949 - and a lively, precocious daughter, Merry. She is the apple of his eye until America begins to run amok in the turbulent 1960s and Merry grows up to be a revolutionary terrorist bent on destroying her father's paradise. With vigorous realism, one of America's most esteemed writers takes us back to the conflicts and violent transitions of the 1960s. This is a book about loving - and hating - America. It's a book about wanting to belong- and refusing to belong - to America. It sets the desire for an American pastoral - a respectable life of space, calm, order, optimism, and achievement - against the indigenous American berserk.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (5 Jun 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224050001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224050005
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 157,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In 1997, Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians' Prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004". Recently Roth received PEN's two most prestigious prizes: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America.

Product Description


"Utterly tragic and compelling. It's one of the greatest modern American novels." (Tatler) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A special celebratory edition to mark the 21st birthday of Vintage books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Elegy for American Innocence 19 Dec 2002
By A Customer
Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for this riveting, quietly horrifying novel that shatters the idyllic illusion of an America that once might have been, but will be no more. American Pastoral is a brilliant commentary on our inability to effectively see beneath the surface of apparent well-being and contentment in others. The first of the "Zuckerman trilogy," (which ends with The Human Stain), American Pastoral recalls and builds on Roth's most accomplished and self-referential fiction of the past.
As the novel opens, Skip Zuckerman, the childless, unattached, first-person narrator of the trilogy has a chance meeting with a boyhood hero at a baseball game. This hero is Swede Levov, an older man who is still, impossibly blonde, blue-eyed and youthful; a legend within his predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Swede is the very embodiment of "America" and all that "being American" stands for. He is, Skip is sure, incapable of living anything but the perfect, and perfectly rewarding, life.
Swede's brother, Jerry, was Skip's best friend, so when Swede asks for a meeting with Skip, Skip is a little puzzled but not all that surprised. Swede, however, doesn't ask anything specific of Skip, but talks of his sons and his memories of Newark before and during World War II. This meeting, though, is pivotal to the novel's central question and its meaning soon becomes crystal clear.
As the novel progresses, Skip attends his high school reunion and, while making note of the various deficiencies shared by the sixtyish men and women in attendance, becomes convinced that no human being ever really knows or understands another. He is depressed by all the conversation about cancer, divorce and the various problems associated with growing older.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just for balance 7 Jan 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Plenty of people have expressed considered critical reactions to this book. While I could bore you with pages of my own, I'll be merciful. My reasons for joining in are amazement at the fact that this seriously good book could receive so may crappy reviews, and a wish to lift the rating a small step towards its due level. This is one of a great novelist's greatest novels. If you haven't yet read it, do so.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars American obsessional 29 Feb 2008
By M. Harrison TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
American Pastoral is the first of a trilogy so loosely connected that even the publisher draws no attention to it. It wasn't until I had read the third volume - The Human Stain - that I realised I had come in at the end, and went back to the beginning with this book (the second volume is I Married A communist).

But reading The Human Stain first does throw American Pastoral into relief. The writing in American Pastoral is as magnificent, but the combination of plot and polemic far less satisfying. Whereas The Human Stain races along in a taut tension between the uncovering of secrets and the unmasking of humanity, American Pastoral is an obsessional, almost pathologically forensic, dissection of the American Way, with the plot acting only as a frustratingly episodic driver.

On the face of it this is a tale of how a man who is the perfect embodiment of the American Dream is blighted by the sheer simplicity of his perfection. He is undone by deviancy right on his doorstep. It's a deviancy he is powerless to prevent because it comes from the person to whom he is most devoted: his daughter.

It's a brilliant premise - so brilliant you long for more of the book to focus directly on it. Yet much of what you get instead is gloves. Yes, gloves. Your knowledge of the glovemaking process will be mightily improved by this book. And though it works as a device for a while, it comes eventually to feel as if you are being beaten to death by metaphor.

And that is true of many of the other meticulous digressions too. Roth scratches at the itch of Americana with a relentlessness that borders on autism. Since he is such a brilliant writer this mania is not without its insights - and humour. But it makes for a tough read. And when you finally reach the shocking drama of the final pages you are left feeling robbed of the more direct - but perhaps no less effective - narrative that might have been.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totnamscratch Not easy. Hugely rewarding 27 Aug 2013
American Pastoral is the first and only novel I have read, so far, by this author. At first, attracted initially by the storyline and the award of a Pullitzer Prize, I found it heavy going. I think this was a combination of getting familiar with Roth's style and his attention to detail. However in persevering l was immensely rewarded. This is an epic tale in which the characters are exposed to a huge range of personal triumphs, tragedies and pretty much everything in between. Sucked in, I hoped desperately that the central character's beloved factory, workforce and neighbourhood, his "American Dream", would somehow escape the brutal onslaught of modern economic rationalism, youthful alienation and urban terrorism, but as with those closest to him, these monolithic, heart rendering events brush nurture and nature aside. For all that this is not a book that left me feeling in any way despondent. On the contrary it is packed with every positive human quality imaginable and the belief that whatever may or may not be accomplished the desire to "do the right thing" is paramount. I will certainly read other novels by this author and probably re-visit this one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, sad and finely crafted
It is difficult to get an English head around the scenario, but worth the effort once the theme begins to hit. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Scower
1.0 out of 5 stars American Colonoscopy
I read the first half of this book over several hours in a hospital ward while awaiting a colonoscopy. After my op, I skimmed through the second half in 20 minutes. Read more
Published 1 month ago by barcelona1986
5.0 out of 5 stars A brillliant read
a master piece and Rithäs finest novel. It dealt with several issues of importance and is a most thought+provoking novel I have read for a long time
Published 2 months ago by pia helena
5.0 out of 5 stars A proper read
Big, bold and full of rage this is a great American novel. Don't believe the one star reviews. His best?
Published 5 months ago by Partial Mind
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth's Unexpurgated Dissection Of The American Dream
This 1997 novel finds Philip Roth at the height of his powers - as insightful, witty and powerful a dissection of the American Dream as you are likely to find anywhere. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Keith M
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring & Repetitive
Sorry but this started well and then slipped into continuous repetition. How a book can go on for so long about not very much at all is beyond me. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Roon1
5.0 out of 5 stars American Pastoral is an outstanding work
American Pastoral ranks as one of the top three works of fiction I have ever read (in around 60years of avidity). Read more
Published 13 months ago by gillian thomson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece
This is the best novel that I have read for some considerable time. It shows the American Dream to be an illusion in an exciting and heartbreaking fiction. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Steve Morgan
3.0 out of 5 stars Really tough going, just worth it
It took me almost a decade to get into this book, with several faltering starts. Recently I saw someone in the tube reading it, who was quite near the end, and I asked if it was... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Sean Slippers
3.0 out of 5 stars American Pastoral
I would have like this to have undergone much more editing. Too much repetition. Characters unlikeable and situations not always believable.
Published 15 months ago by P.V.Richardson
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