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The Human Stain
 
 

The Human Stain [Kindle Edition]

Philip Roth
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Amazon.co.uk Review

Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk--formerly "Silky Silk", undefeated welterweight pro-boxer--strode in and shook the place awake. This faculty dean sacked the deadwood, made lots of hot new hires, including Yale-spawned literary-theory wunderkind Delphine Roux, and irritated so many people for so many decades that now, in 1998, they have all turned on him. Silk's character assassination is partly owing to what the novel's narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, calls "the Devil of the Little Place--the gossip, the jealousy, the acrimony, the boredom, the lies".

But shocking, intensely dramatised events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication", and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble", and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado", Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.

In a short space, it's tough to convey the gale-force quality of Silk's rants, or the odd effect of Zuckerman's narration, alternately retrospective and torrentially in the moment. The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey are just as important as his turbulent forced retirement, because it turns out that for his entire adult life, Silk has been covering up the fact that he is a black man. (If this seems implausible, consider that the famous New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard did the same thing.) Young Silk rejects both the racism that bars him from Woolworth's counter and the Negro solidarity of Howard University. "Neither the they of Woolworth's nor the we of Howard" is for Coleman Silk. "Instead the raw I with all its agility. Self-discovery--that was the punch to the labonz.... Self-knowledge but concealed. What is as powerful as that?"

Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband (a sketchy guy who seems to have wandered in from a lesser Russell Banks novel), scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off, kick ass, and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo

Amazon Review

Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk strode in and shook the place awake. This faculty dean sacked the deadwood, made lots of hot new hires, including Yale-spawned literary-theory wunderkind Delphine Roux, and pissed off so many people for so many decades that now, in 1998, they've all turned on him. Silk's character assassination is partly owing to what the novel's narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, calls "the Devil of the Little Place--the gossip, the jealousy, the acrimony, the boredom, the lies". But shocking, intensely dramatised events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication", and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble," and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado," Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.

The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey become just as important as his turbulent-forced retirement when he reveals a secret that he has been hiding his entire adult life and Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband, scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 553 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (23 Dec 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004GKMTMM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #21,083 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The "provincial poisons" of modern life... 9 May 2009
By LittleMoon TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Having won all four of America's major literary awards in succession in the 1990s (the National Book Critics Circle Award; the PEN/Faulkner Award; the National Book Award and the Pulitzer) Philip Roth hardly seems in need of another favourable book review, still...

With The Human Stain, Roth introduces us to the main protagonist Coleman Silk, a 71 year old classics Professor so incensed with a false accusation of racism, that he turns to reclusive writer Nathan Zuckerman (Roth's fictional alter ego) to clear his name through writing a book. As far as plot goes, this is it. The novel unfolds as Zuckerman finds out more and more information about Silk's life, a life that has at once embraced and subverted "normality": the "real truth" if indeed it is the "truth" that Zuckerman unveils, is one of the story's great ironies.

Roth's novel is steeped in the politics of its time,1998, and even non-American readers can remember the single biggest moment in Bill Clinton's presidency: his impeachment over the incident with Monica Lewinsky. The incident in itself, and "America's" reaction to it, being one of the many, many sub-themes in this work. These sub-themes are not incidental; they are complicit in shaping Silk's life and Roth writes of the kind of twisted syllogisms: "No motive for the perpetrator is necessary, no logic or rationale is required. Only a label is required. The label is the motive. The label is the evidence. The label is the logic." that once found their social expression through McCarthyism, and lists the deadly "provincial poisons" of "gossip... jealousy... acrimony... boredom... lies" of the small-town mentality (suggestive of a national phenomenon?) whereby reason and truth are quickly forgotten in the face of scandal.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rich and compelling read - unmissable 8 Mar 2005
By A Common Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roth once more shows his literary skills in creating this engrossing book, so richly full of themes and subthemes that it causes the reader to pause in reflection on every page. I would rate this epic story (mirroring the ancient Greek conflicts so loved by its main character Coleman Silk) very highly and have no problem placing it in the "classic" category, a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand American culture in the late 20th century.
Despite the rather grandiose ambition of the book (to make a once-and-for-all comment on the whole topic of political correctness in academia), the book is immensely readable and as the story gathers pace, the reader is drawn into a narrative as thrilling and suspenseful as any crime novel (and in any case there are plenty of crimes in here anyway!). The characters are complex and the situations they find themselves in unusual. Huge conflicts emerge behind their differing approaches to life and the book is in some ways like a glorified soap opera with all the human themes one would find in any television drama.
In writing a review of this book, you become aware of quite how rich this novel is. It would be an excellent book for a reading group, or a more academic programme and the topics for discussion which arise from it would be endless. The book tells complex stories about the Vietnam experience, Bill Clinton's meanderings through the Lewinsky story, racism and ethnicity, human ageing, and the irresisitlble pull of romance and sex. Primarily, the book is about the human condition (the "human stain" of the title) and to use a cliché, man's search for meaning. But it can also be read as a powerful human drama, for Roth's fictional narrative is as valid on its own terms as the lessons he seeks to draw from it.
This is a rich and compelling read, highly recommended to anyone who expects their chosen books to make them think about their own lives and the lives of those around them.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Readers like me familiar with Philip Roth's work may well feel slightly disappointed with The Human Stain. Many of the features which imparted a unique character to his earlier books- the vivid recreation of Jewish Newark or the introduction of the semi autobiographical narrator Nathan Zuckerman- are now beginning to seem rather tiring mannerisms.
Roth becomes more ambitious with every book and The Human Stain again sees him tackling through a piquant life story The State of the Nation. Here he is taking on the tyranny of political correctness and of the persecuting spirit which is said to be ruling America at the time of the Monica Lewinsky trial.
Some of Roth's hits at the intellectual decline of American universities or the absurdities of French theory are shrewd. But they are also often disconnected from the vital life of the novel and read more like impassioned (and not always well thought through) journalistic tirades.
'Write what you know' is a saying that Roth always seems to have respected in his earlier work, with its accounts of the life of the novelist and the pains and pleasures of an American Jewish upbringing. But it is one he seems to depart from here. His central character Coleman Silk is marvellously alive, but many of the supporting figures- like the neurotic Derrida spouting academic or the mad Vietnam veteran- feel like a clever assemblage of cliches rather than authentic creations.
For me at least if Roth is becoming ever more concerned with 'issues'- wrestling with Black History month or the Monica Lewinsky trial- then the cost is a slackening delight in language.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth's best book
I picked up The Human Stain without preconceptions as it was on a reading list for a course and I was pleased to find that I really enjoyed it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by CoffeeandCake
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'title' contender!
You know the writing is going to be good. But what I really like about this novel is the double-take forced on the reader somewhere near the middle of the book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by FB Ings
5.0 out of 5 stars 20th Century America, Nailed
As with most novels by Philip Roth (particularly the later ones) I find multiple readings bring rich rewards. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Keith M
4.0 out of 5 stars The Human Stain
A complex, well-written novel which takes on questions of identity (and Jewish identity) in a novel way. Roth is very nearly at his best in this book, which is very good indeed.
Published 7 months ago by Duncan Bush
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
The delivery was very fast, I was very impressed. The actual book condition is excellent, barely even touched it appears. The book was amazing. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jess Rowlands
3.0 out of 5 stars The Human Stain
This is a very clever and complicated story involving the various protagonists. Personally I did find the language in places a bit too much, i.e. Read more
Published 16 months ago by maureen
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Fantastic book. Love every moment of reading it. Breathtaking! I think it's a must read for everyone. Makes your head think hard.
Published 17 months ago by Belladonna
5.0 out of 5 stars Opinion on the Human Stain by Philip Roth
I enjoyed the book immensely. The excellent writing and, of course, the story. It totally met my expectations. I have always liked
Roth's books.
Published 17 months ago by Ulla
4.0 out of 5 stars good but.......
If I hadn't have watched the film first would have been slighty bored by some parts in the book. I had the actors who played the parts to imagine the characters by, which made it... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Polly Pocket
3.0 out of 5 stars The Human Stain:Philip Roth
Bought as a gift for a relative - no idea what it is like. I think she liked it. Philip Roth is a good writer!
Published 20 months ago by RITA CRAFT
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