Customer Review

36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth's finest work, 14 July 2004
This review is from: The Human Stain (Paperback)
This book sat on my bookshelf for over a year before I decided to pick it up and read it. I had only read Roth's Portnoy's Complaint and wasn't too impressed with it. But, when I found out that there was a movie adaptation of the book I wanted to make sure that I read the book before seeing the movie (books are typically far superior to the film adaptation). It didn't take long before I was floored. The Human Stain is an exceptional novel and has completely turned around my opinion of Philip Roth. Without question this is one of the best novels I have read this year.
The Human Stain is the story of Coleman Silk, a retired college professor from Athena College. Coleman retired from his position in the midst of a scandal. He was accused of making a racist remark in one of his classes towards two students. The accusation is patently untrue but Coleman was not the most popular man on campus and things began to steamroll out of control until he left the school. The joke inherent in this accusation is that while Coleman may look like a 71 year old white man, he is actually a black man. Coleman has spent his professional (and private) life denying who (and what) he is. In case this concept sounds too fantastic (a black man who looks white trying to hide the fact that he is black), there is a real life corollary in Anatole Broyard, a New York Times book critic.
This is the Coleman that we are first introduced to. He is in a sexual (and not much more) relationship with 34 year old Faunia Farley. She is illiterate and works as a cleaning lady at Athena College. This too, is a scandal waiting to happen. It is this relationship with Faunia that instigates the telling of the story and we are told very early in the novel that Coleman and Faunia do not live for many more months (by early, I mean within 20 pages). The story is told by writer Nathan Zuckerman. Zuckerman was told most of what he knows by Coleman. For quite some time Coleman tried to get Zuckerman to write a book about the events following the alleged racist remark. The Human Stain (the title of Roth's novel as well as Zuckerman's book) is not quite the book that Coleman wanted written, but it was a story that Zuckerman felt compelled to tell. We must remember that everything is shaded by what Zuckerman knows and what he believes.
There is a long section in the middle of the book dealing with a young Coleman Silk. We see him in High School and get glimpses of how he became a black man hiding behind his white skin and denying his family and why he would have done such a thing. This section deals with Coleman being a young boxer and the relationships with women that he engaged in. For all the power of this book, the section on the young Coleman is the most powerful. I first expected it to break the rhythm of the story, but it fits perfectly and is one of the best passages in the novel.
After being somewhat put off Roth from reading Portnoy's Complaint, this book impressed me so much I'm looking forward to reading American Pastoral. I have a hard time imagining that Roth wrote a better book than The Human Stain, but a different novel won the Pulitzer. Awards aside, The Human Stain is one of the best books I have read all year and is simply exceptional work. After finishing the book, the best I can say is: wow. The book really is that good. I would highly recommend The Human Stain.
-Joe Sherry
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Feb 2014 08:58:18 GMT
FXLXOX says:
you review blatantly and selfishly reveals the secret, what is the point of spoiling it for others? Luckily I have seen the movie 2 days ago so was in the know.
Less is more..........
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Location: Minnesota

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