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Nemesis [Hardcover]

Philip Roth
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
Price: 16.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

7 Oct 2010

In 'the stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. This is the startling and surprising theme of 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 centre of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful, twenty-three-year old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and a 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 emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Moving between the smouldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children's 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 Cantor's passage into personal disaster and no less exact about the condition of childhood.

Through this story runs the dark question that haunts all four of Roth's late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now, Nemesis: what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?


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Nemesis + The Plot Against America + American Pastoral
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (7 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224089536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224089531
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 14.7 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 218,524 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

Review

It's as bleak as much of his recent fiction, but no less powerful (Tatler)

an affecting work with a memorable twist (The Daily Telegraph, Review)

Book Description

An absolutely brilliant new novel by one of the world's great writers.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A polished, perfectly constructed novel. 12 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover
Many journalists have written off Roth's recent material. Those readers who follow such cues may already have missed the understated wit of 'Indignation'- hopefully they will be prepared to give 'Nemesis' a chance. They should. It's an absolute blinder.

In 'Nemesis', Roth transposes many of the ideas common to his work since 1995's 'Sabbath's Theatre'- creating a compendium of Rothian themes that functions as an outstanding novel in its own right. Playing with the death-fears behind his more recent works, Roth returns to the intersections of history and personal narrative that made his 90s 'American' trilogy so memorable. The results are dazzling.

We're back in the familiar territory of Weequahic, the Jewish suburb of Newark, New Jersey, introduced to a character whose simple belief in human progress and humanist perfection is tested by the strains of a polio epidemic. Bucky Cantor is a fascinating character, superficially bland yet all the more distinctive for it- Roth repeating his fascination with those rudely jolted awake from the American Dream (tm). The text's narrator, Arnold Mesnikoff, only reveals himself in the novel's concluding section- yet his life-narrative is set against Bucky's in a beautifully restrained fashion. The novel's final scene, without giving spoilers, is one of the most elegant and moving passages to be found in all Roth's fiction.

There's a lot in here- World War II, the loss of faith, the innocence of youth- but the prose style is clear, making even the most ambitious of topics merge seamlessly into the novel's structure. A step back from the vitriolic tragedy of 'The Humbling' and towards a more gently elegiac mode (first hinted at in 'Indignation'), 'Nemesis' is wholly unpretentious, deeply intelligent and unabashedly moving. It's Roth's best novel for a decade, and a great starting point for those late to his charms.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crippling guilt 30 Oct 2011
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Again Philip Roth is concerned with illness. The 1944 polio outbreak in his native Newark NJ - and again specifically in the Jewish community - is the subject of this book. A recent novel of his, Everyman, (see my review) was about the afflictions of old age; this one is about an illness most of whose victims are children.

There is panic in the community: vaccines against polio came into use only in 1955; and it appears that in 1944 noone knew exactly what caused it or how it was transmitted - but it was known that it is at its most virulent in the hot season, and there are vivid descriptions in this novel of the sweltering heat that summer. There was also the (correct) suspicion was that dirt was involved.

The central figure in this novel is Bucky Cantor, the popular young sports teacher at the local school, a sturdy, upright, supportive and caring figure, who is deeply affected as pupil after pupil is stricken by the disease. There are many ways in which people react to such a crisis: not only panic, but rage against God's injustice, or looking for scapegoats. Even he is accused by one parent of letting the children become too hot during their games.

His girl friend, who works at a children's summer camp on the cooler and more salubrious coast, urges him to take a job which has just fallen vacant there because the man who had it before had been called up. He agrees, but feels a deserter: he already felt ashamed that his poor eye-sight had prevented him from being accepted by the army, in which his two closest friends were fighting. When he gets to the camp, its setting and its happy children, beautifully described, could not be more different from the fetid city and its anxious youngsters he had left behind. He veers between joy and guilt.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unflinching 22 Nov 2010
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In my first experience of a Roth novel, I was hooked from the first page by the flow of crystal-clear prose, so unlike the muddy rivers I have been wading through recently. Despite the unappealing theme of a polio epidemic in US Newark during World War 2, and the certainty that the tale would end in tragedy, I was compelled to read to the end.

The plot is perhaps too slight for the length of the book (280 pages) and you may feel that points are rammed home long after the reader has "got the point". There is also the somewhat awkward device of introducing one of the young polio victims in passing as "I", only for him to reappear in the last chapter, and listen to Bucky Cantor's story in enough detail to be able to relate the whole tale of the promising young athlete from "the wrong side of town" who becomes a PE teacher with an overdeveloped sense of duty and "honour". This has been stimulated by the strict upbringing received from his grandfather, and the need to expiate the failings of his father, an embezzler who abandoned his family. Bucky is haunted by the fact that his friends are dying in active service from which poor eyesight has debarred him and feels unduly responsible when the young boys in his charge begin to die with alarming speed from polio.

The strength of the story lies partly in the analysis of the factors which may form an individual personality, and the minute exploration of human emotions - the grief over the loss of a young life with great potential, the overwhelming desire to escape from a dreadful situation, with the accompanying guilt one may feel over so doing - also the corrosive effects of an inability to compromise when things go wrong. Then there are the interesting historical and cultural facets.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good As It Gets
I have petitioned Ambrose Amazon - enigmatic founder of this electronic retail empire - to institute a 10-star rating for exceptional works and his office has promised to get back... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mike Collins
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good storytelling
I've never particularly taken to Roth's novels, finding him too obsessed with his own Jewish identity, his sexual obsessions; his distasteful view of woman as objects for his own... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Phil O'Sofa
5.0 out of 5 stars good not just for a microbilogists
I had to buy this book for Uni.. new learning system where they try to encourage ppl to read about science in not science way... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Michalina
5.0 out of 5 stars As flies to wanton boys, are we to the Gods
A fantastic novel.Bucky Cantor is 22 years old. He is a physical education teacher in Newark 1944. His poor sight means he cannot enlist so he supervises kids in a summer... Read more
Published 10 months ago by gerardpeter
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous journey into a young man's mind
Vintage Roth, this is an absolutely marvellous book that follows one healthy, happy and fulfilled young man into his own misery and grief, displaying his sense of unjustified but... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Maggie Stanfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes you Back
Beautifully written, very sad. Good for people who can remember polio hitting communities and the dreaded iron lung. Bucky was too kind-hearted.
Published 13 months ago by marion hammond m.p. hammond
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and atmospheric
Philips Roth cleverly took us back to a summer in1940's when the polio epidemic was raging and the impact it had on a community. A moving story highlighting difficult issues.
Published 13 months ago by Mrs S Galvin
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful story about a horrible story, and a far flung parallel
I have read a few other books by Roth and I find his writing brilliant, mesmerizing and evocative. And this one, although a little bit duller at times than for instance American... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Sofia Rodriguez Engelbrecht
4.0 out of 5 stars Nemesis
It is a sweltering summer in Newark, New Jersey, 1944, and Bucky Cantor is a young man working as a playground supervisor. Read more
Published 21 months ago by S Riaz
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
I really enjoyed this book - not quite my "book of the year" but still, a really good read. Moving, inspirational in places and ultimately tragic. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mrs
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