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Philip Roth Biography

Courtesy of Salem Press, a Division of EBSCO Publishing

Originally published in Critical Insights: Philip Roth, Edited by Aimee Pozorski (2013)


Roth, Philip


Mar. 19, 1933- Writer


Philip Roth first achieved prominence in 1959 with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories, for which he won the National Book Award. Delineating the conflict between traditional and contemporary morals as manifested in a young, Jewish American man’s search for identity, the title novella revived an enduring controversy (which had begun two years earlier with Roth’s first New Yorker story) over whether his satirical treatment of Jewish themes constituted anti- Semitism. That controversy reached a fever pitch with his novel Portnoy’s Complaint, which created a sensation in 1969 because of its explicit recounting of a young lawyer’s sexual autobiography, consisting largely of compulsive attempts to free himself from the strict confines of his Jewish upbringing through incessant masturbation and sexual conquest. Since then, Roth’s output has ranged from wild comedy and political satire to examinations of his role as a writer and son and metafictional explorations of the relationship between art and life, fiction and reality, imagination and fact; or, as he has put it, the “relationship between the written and the unwritten world.” In an interview with Mervyn Rothstein for the New York Times (August 1, 1985), Roth identified his primary theme as “the tension between license and restraint, . . . a struggle between the hunger for personal liberty and the forces of inhibition.”


In their late 50s and 60s, some novelists begin to rest on their laurels, but Philip Roth instead produced some of his best works. Among these were the memoir Patrimony (1991), Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993), and Sabbath’s Theater (1995), which won the National Book Award for fiction. Roth’s trilogy of modern American life began in 1997 with American Pastoral, which covers the Vietnam era; continued in 1998 with I Married a Communist, a look at the Red Scare of the 1950s; and concluded in 2000 with The Human Stain, a critique of America’s obsession with moralizing and political correctness. For American Pastoral he earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. Over the next decade Roth’s published works included The Dying Animal (2001), The Plot Against America (2004), Everyman (2006), Exit Ghost (2007), and Indignation (2008).


Philip Milton Roth was born on March 19, 1933 to Herman Roth and Bess (Finkel) Roth in Newark, New Jersey, where he and his older brother, Sandy, grew up. His father, the American-born son of Jewish immigrants from the eastern European region of Galicia (currently occupied by Poland and Ukraine), whose shoe-store business had gone bankrupt during the Depression, was an insurance salesman who had reached the echelons of management despite the openly anti-Semitic sentiments of his superiors. Like his father, Philip Roth faced similar prejudices that marred his otherwise “intensely secure and protected” childhood. His summer vacations at Bradley Beach on the New Jersey shore were sometimes spoiled by gang attacks against Jews, and, even at the almost entirely Jewish Weequahic High School, Roth was subjected to violence inflicted by bullies from neighboring, non-Jewish schools. At the age of 12, he pledged that when he grew up he would “oppose the injustices wreaked by the violent and the privileged by becoming a lawyer for the underdog.” His other passion during his youth was baseball, which, he has written, offered him “membership in a great secular nationalistic church from which nobody had ever seemed to suggest that Jews should be excluded.”


From 1950, when he graduated from high school, to 1951 Roth attended the Newark extension of Rutgers University before transferring to Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to escape the “provincialism” of Newark and discover “the rest of America.” But he discovered instead that Bucknell’s “respectable Christian atmosphere [was] hardly less constraining than [his] own particular Jewish upbringing.” While at Bucknell, Roth edited the literary magazine, appeared in student plays, and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. degree in English in 1954, he obtained an M.A. degree in English from the University of Chicago the following year. Roth then moved to Washington, D.C., where he served briefly in the U.S. Army before he was discharged due to a back injury. Upon returning to the University of Chicago in 1956, he began teaching a full schedule of freshman composition while working toward a doctorate degree (a goal that he abandoned in the first quarter). During Roth’s two-year stint as an English instructor at the University of Chicago, he continued to write short fiction, which he had begun doing at least as early as 1955. Among those who read his work at that time was fellow writer Saul Bellow, who recalled that Roth’s stories “showed a wonderful wit and great pace.” Roth, however, has said that he did not initially take his own writing seriously because “everybody studying English wrote stories.”


But Roth’s stories often proved to be of award-winning caliber, enabling him to pursue writing and teaching full-time. After serving for a brief period as a reviewer of television and film for the New Republic, a renowned liberal weekly journal of opinion, Roth published Goodbye, Columbus in 1959. In the title novella, the conflicting values of the impoverished, urban Neil Klugman and the affluent Brenda Patimkin, a Jewish- American “princess” whose suburban, upper-middle-class lifestyle is satirized mercilessly, doom the couple’s relationship. In the opinion of most critics, the book showed great promise and signaled the arrival of an important new writer. “A brilliant new talent,” Arnold Dolin wrote for the Saturday Review (May 16, 1959), “Philip Roth has looked penetratingly into the heart of the American Jew who faces the loss of his identity. The conflict involved in this choice between two worlds provides the focal point of drama for a memorable collection of short stories.”


The earlier publication of one of the stories in Goodbye, Columbus, “Defender of the Faith,” which appeared in the New Yorker in April 1957, had provoked a barrage of charges that Roth’s attitude toward his Jewish subjects was anti-Semitic, a controversy that was revived by his unflattering portrayal of the consumerist lifestyle of the Patimkins, which prompted one rabbi to accuse him of presenting “a distorted image of the basic values of Orthodox Judaism.” Nevertheless, the majority of critics were impressed by Goodbye, Columbus, which earned Roth a National Book Award, an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a Daroff Award from the Jewish Book Council of America, and a Guggenheim fellowship that enabled him to travel to Rome. In 1960 he began a two-year stint as a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, followed by two years as a writer-in-residence at Princeton University in New Jersey.


Roth’s next two books are now generally considered minor works. Letting Go (1962), his first full-length novel, focused on the ethical dilemmas of a young Jewish academic at the University of Chicago. Despite the “sharply observant” qualities of Roth’s prose that were unfailingly mentioned by reviewers, Letting Go was invariably faulted for its sprawling length and its diffusiveness. When She Was Good (1967), which Roth once referred to simply as his “book with no Jews,” is also his only novel to feature a female protagonist. Critics were sharply divided over its merits. Josh Greenfeld, writing for Book Week (June 4, 1967), ranked When She Was Good “among the few novels written about America since World War II that may still be worth reading 25 years from now,” but a reviewer for Time (June 9, 1967) described the female heroine as “theatrically unsatisfying and an ear-jarring bore.” Saul Maloff, whose review for Newsweek (June 12, 1967) occupied a middle ground, noted: “With unerring fidelity, [Roth] records the flat surface of provincial American life, the look and feel and sound of it–and then penetrates it to the cesspool of its invisible dynamisms. Beneath the good, and impelling it, he says, lies the horrid.”


The period between 1962 and 1967, during which Roth lived in New York City and underwent psychoanalysis, marked the longest hiatus in his productivity that he had ever experienced. He characterized that period as one of “literary uncertainty,” adding, “I didn’t know what the hell to do. What do I write about? Do I pursue these Jewish subjects any further or get rid of them? . . . It was a period of debilitating disorder in my young life.” In an interview with Hermione Lee for the Paris Review (Summer 1983-Winter 1984), Roth revealed how his disastrous marriage in 1959 to the former Margaret Martinson Williams (from whom he was legally separated in 1963 and who died in an automobile accident in 1968) had exhausted his emotional and financial resources. “I needed [analysis],” he said, “primarily to prevent me from going out and committing murder because of the alimony and court costs incurred for having served two years in a childless marriage. The image that teased me during those years was of a train that had been shunted onto the wrong track. In my early twenties I had been zipping right along there, you know–on schedule, express stops only, final destination clearly in mind; and then suddenly I was on the wrong track, speeding off into the wilds. I’d ask myself, ‘How the hell do you get this thing back on the right track?’ Well, you can’t. I’ve continued to be surprised, over the years, whenever I discover myself, late at night, pulling into the wrong station.”


Roth restored his career during the late 1960s, when he began teaching literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained on the faculty for about 11 years. The 1969 feature film adaptation of Goodbye, Columbus, starring Ali MacGraw and Richard Benjamin, coincided with the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint, which quickly sold 393,000 copies in hardcover. Roth became an instant celebrity and garnered publicity, not only due to the crudity of his humor, which offended some (the book was banned in Australia) and delighted others, but also because the intimate nature of Portnoy’s confessional monologue to his psychoanalyst led to considerable prurient speculation about Roth’s own personal life. The inordinate amount of attention focused on Roth compelled him to move out of New York City to the Yaddo Artist Colony, located in Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York.


Literary critics, however, were more enthusiastic in their assessment of Portnoy’s Complaint than the gossipmongers on the television talk-show circuit. Granville Hicks, writing for the Saturday Review (February 22, 1969), described Portnoy’s Complaint as ”something very much like a masterpiece,” while John Greenfeld, writing for the New York Times Book Review (February 23, 1969), called it a “deliciously funny book, absurd and exuberant, wild and uproarious.” Those offended by the book included anti-obscenity crusaders as well as some members of the Jewish community, who felt that the novel was tinged with anti-Semitism. “The charges were several,” Roth recalled in an interview with Curt Suplee for the Washington Post (October 30, 1983), “and in defense of my accusers, it was only the lunatic fringe who said I was anti-Semitic. The stronger case was that I was lending fuel to the fires of anti-Semites. . . . I don’t think it’s a matter of a right position or a wrong position. It’s two right positions colliding.”


Ironically, his critics may have unwittingly played a part in the genesis of Portnoy’s Complaint, as Roth explained in his book Reading Myself and Others (1975), by prompting him to pursue the goal “of becoming the writer some Jewish critics had been telling [him he] was all along: irresponsible, conscienceless, unserious.” The uproar over Portnoy’s Complaint did not impede Roth’s election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970.


During the early 1970s Roth wrote a series of entirely different satirical novels that received mixed reaction and were generally perceived as being less impressive than his other books. Our Gang (1971), a parody on the Richard M. Nixon administration that featured a fictional U.S. president named Tricky E. Dixon, was described by Dwight MacDonald for the New York Times Book Review (November 7, 1971) as “farfetched, unfair, tasteless, disturbing, logical, coarse, and very funny. . . . In short, a masterpiece.” Explaining his chosen target, Roth said, “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”


In The Breast (1972), Professor David Kepesh has been transformed into a six-foot-tall mammary gland and attempts to reconcile his intellectual and sexual selves. Although he does not succeed completely, his efforts bring him invaluable insights into how to cope with a self-image that is at war with his impulses. Roth once referred to Kepesh as the “first heroic character” he had been able to portray because he went further than other Rothian protagonists in passing through “the barrier that forms one boundary of the individual’s identity and experience: that barrier of personal inhibition, ethical restraint, and plain old conformism and fear, beyond which lies the moral and psychological unknown.” (Kepesh reappears, as a professor who moves from the alternate gratification of his mental and physical selves to the achievement of a more integrated way of being, in The Professor of Desire [1977].) “The Breast heaves with weighty theme-ideas,” Bruce Allen wrote for the Library Journal (October 1, 1972), “but it yields nothing firm, lacking any consistent interplay between the serious and the grotesque.”


After penning the ironically titled The Great American Novel (1973), a baseball satire that one critic dismissed as “a great American bore that’s impossible not to put down shortly after you pick it up,” Roth authored what many consider his finest novel: My Life as a Man (1974). Its multilayered story centers on the novelist Peter Tarnopol’s attempts to solve his dilemmas by writing “Useful Fictions” about Nathan Zuckerman, a Jewish writer whose life resembles his own. Writing for Newsweek (June 3, 1974), Peter S. Prescott referred to My Life as a Man as “Roth’s best novel” and “his most complex and most ambitious.”


Zuckerman became a recurring character who appeared in several of Roth’s subsequent novels. In The Ghost Writer (1979), a young Zuckerman visits the home of his literary mentor, where he meets a mysterious guest named Amy Belette whom he believes is Anne Frank resurrected. In a review for the Washington Post (September 2, 1979), Jonathan Penner wrote that The Ghost Writer “provides further evidence that [Roth] can do practically anything with fiction. His narrative power . . . is superb.” Zuckerman Unbound (1981) follows Zuckerman as he achieves notoriety with his scandalous novel “Carnovsky” and falls victim to his own bad reputation, which ultimately destroys his love life and his relations with his family. In The Anatomy Lesson (1983), Zuckerman, now stricken with inexplicable neck and shoulder pain and mourning the loss of his mother and the devolution of his hometown, Newark, decides to abandon writing and become a doctor. Reviewing it for the New Yorker (November 7, 1983), John Updike discovered that “materials one might have thought exhausted by Roth’s previous novelistic explorations, inflammations one might have thought long soothed, burn hotter than ever; the central howl unrolls with a mediated savagery both fascinating and repellent, self-indulgent yet somehow sterling, adamant, pure, in the style of high modernism, that bewitchment to all the art-stricken young of the 1950s.”


The three novels (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Anatomy Lesson) were published in one volume in 1985 entitled Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and an Epilogue. Although the epilogue, The Prague Orgy, which was considered by many critics to be the best section of the volume, seemed to mark the end of the Zuckerman cycle, Roth resurrected his hero yet again for The Counterlife (1986), a stand-alone novel for which he won the National Book Critics Circle Award. William H. Gass declared The Counterlife “a triumph” in his assessment of the novel for the New York Times Book Review (January 4, 1987) and concluded that it “constitutes a fulfillment of tendencies, a successful integration of themes, and the final working through of obsessions that have previously troubled if not marred his work.” Other reviewers were critical of the book’s nonlinear storytelling approach. Among the dissenters was Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who wrote for the New York Times (December 29, 1986): “We become so aware of the narrative’s duplicity that all that is left to us is the burden of the author’s self-consciousness as an artist and a Jew. It’s like being trapped between two fun-house mirrors that reflect each other’s distortions unto a point that vanishes into absurdity.”


During his interview with Curt Suplee for the Washington Post, Roth defined the Zuckerman novels as “hypothetical autobiographies. It’s very complicated. I have no great brief to make for my life as lived. In fact, it’s basically sitting in a chair writing books. It’s not very eventful. I don’t know what I am–I’m a person who writes. But what excites my verbal life is imagining what I might be, what might befall someone like myself; imagining what kind of person I would be if I were a person. I’m really quite content to be what I am. I never entertained the idea of being a doctor in my life, but writing this book I had to. I don’t have to do these things–I have people do them for me.”


After writing so many “hypothetical autobiographies,” Roth was compelled to pen The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography (1988). A memoir of his first 36 years, The Facts began as a therapeutic exercise to help him recover from the deep depression he had fallen into after minor knee surgery in 1987. For three months Roth suffered from hallucinations, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and other debilitating symptoms, due to the interaction of two drugs he was taking as a result of the surgery. “I thought, something is happening to me; I’ve got to fight my way out of it,” he told Stephen Schiff for Vanity Fair (April 1990). “And I would try to write down who I was, to remember who I was.” In a review of The Facts for USA Today (September 2, 1988), William H. Pritchard demurred that “novelists, even when they try to play it straight and pass along naked truths about themselves, clothe those truths in sentences that construct an imagined self instead of handing it over unaltered.” In reply to such comments, Roth told Mervyn Rothstein, “I called the book The Facts, not ‘The Dirt.’ I didn’t write ‘The Dirt.’ That’s another book.”


In the early 1990s Roth authored books that were strikingly dissimilar in tone, style, and subject. Deception (1990) centered on a 50-year-old married novelist–also named Philip–who records the dialogue between himself and his younger lover, who is also married. The novelist Fay Weldon remarked that Deception “reads like a brilliant radio play for a minority audience” in her article for the New York Times Book Review (March 11, 1990), while Peter S. Prescott wrote for Newsweek (March 26, 1990) that Roth was merely “revving his motor again, his gearshift still stuck in neutral.”


In contrast, Patrimony: A True Story (1991), which focused on the life and death of Herman Roth, who had died at 86 from a brain tumor in October 1989, was unanimously admired for its “deeply resonant” portrayal of the author’s father. “In celebrating his father,” R. Z. Sheppard wrote for Time (January 21, 1991), “and by implication the source of his own character, Roth has not strayed from the long path he has cut for himself: to dramatize the adventure of assimilation in all its anxiety, humor, and fertile illusions. As a writer and a son, he has now dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.” In 1991 Roth was awarded the National Arts Club’s Medal of Honor for Literature for the body of his work.


Operation Shylock (1993), which Roth presented as a quasi-autobiographical work, centered on two characters both named Philip Roth: the narrator–an author suffering from depression who travels to Israel to attend the trial of a war criminal; and a spy for an Israeli intelligence agency who is posing as the author. When the “real” Roth confronts his double, the two begin arguing fiercely about everything from the Holocaust to the slippery slope of politics in the Middle East. (Roth’s publisher and reviewers called it a work of fiction, but Roth himself insisted that the story was true, despite many critics questioning the likelihood that Roth had been recruited by the Mossad.) The novel had a mixed reception from the critics. Paul Gray wrote in Time (March 8, 1993): “Roth has not riffed with quite this comic abandon since Portnoy’s Complaint. And the social and historical range of Operation Shylock is broader than anything the author has attempted before.” In his review for Newsweek (March 8, 1993), Malcolm Jones wrote, however: “If [Roth] intended to replicate the ironic contradictions in the Mideast, he succeeded all too well, exhausting our patience in the bargain. Our lasting impression is of a prodigally gifted writer searching for evermore complicated and arcane ways to keep himself amused.”

Roth’s next novel, Sabbath’s Theater (1995), revolved around Mickey Sabbath, a once-notorious New York street performer, now cheating on his second wife, Roseanna, with a Croatian immigrant named Drenka. Following Drenka’s death from ovarian cancer, the embittered Sabbath reminisces about their relationship in order to better understand his own wild life. In a review for the New York Times (August 22, 1995), Michiko Kakutani called the book “distasteful and disingenuous,” and also added that “Because Mr. Roth never offers much insight into Sabbath’s heart, because he suggests that Sabbath is virtually incapable of sincerity, that even his post-Drenka breakdown may be an act of manipulation . . . the reader is hard pressed to tolerate, much less sympathize with, Sabbath.” On the other hand, William H. Pritchard for the New York Times Book Review (September 10, 1995) touted Sabbath’s Theater as Roth’s “richest, most rewarding novel.”For his effort Roth won the 1995 National Book Award for fiction.


In 1997 Roth authored American Pastoral, the first book in a trilogy of postwar American life. Narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, the story, which is set during the Vietnam era, recounts the rise and fall of Seymour Irving Levov, known as “the Swede” for his Aryan good looks. Though Jewish, Levov is not as alienated as many of Roth’s other Jewish characters; in fact, he becomes first a commanding athlete and later a successful husband and father–someone truly living the dream of the 1950s by assimilating completely into American life. American Pastoral earned stellar reviews and won Roth the Pulitzer Prize. In America (August 30-September 6, 1997), Sylvia Barack Fishman remarked: “Philip Roth . . . has written a powerful, painful and deeply moving masterpiece that will surprise many readers familiar with his 22 earlier books.” Mayer Schiller opined for the National Review (June 16, 1997) that American Pastoral “has everything one could want in a novel. Its rapid-fire insights into the human condition tumble down upon each other. Yet, they are delivered with just the right degree of irony, ambiguity, and humble humor.”


I Married a Communist (1998), the second volume in Roth’s trilogy, did not fare as well with the critics. Again narrated by Zuckerman, as well as his 90-year-old high-school teacher, Murray Ringold, the novel relates the story of Ringold’s brother Ira, a radio star known as Iron Rinn–who converts to communism during World War II and is later vilified for his beliefs. Betrayed by his wife, Eve, who writes a tell-all memoir about her life with him, Iron Rinn is devastated by the same anti-communist forces that brought down so many Americans in the 1950s. Reviewing I Married a Communist for the New York Times (October 8, 1998), Michiko Kakutani described it as “a wildly uneven novel that feels both unfinished and overstuffed, a novel that veers unsteadily between sincerity and slapstick, heartfelt melancholy and cavalier manipulation.” Robert Kelly, writing for the New York Times Book Review (October 11, 1998), was far more complimentary, calling the book “a gripping novel.” He continued: “This powerful novel leaves me haunted by the isolation in which each character, not just Ira, stands in history. The book’s final page tells of the stars, whose brilliance is matched only by their apartness. A classic image fit to close this new novel by one of the real ones.”


The final installment of the trilogy, The Human Stain (2000), was a portrait of contemporary American angst. The novel looks at the decline of common sense and civility with regard to sex and privacy in the United States. With Nathan Zuckerman serving as the narrator once again, The Human Stain chronicles the life of Coleman Silk, a black professor who has been passing for white for decades. Lorrie Moore, writing for the New York Times Book Review (May 7, 2000), called The Human Stain “an astonishing, uneven and often very beautiful book.” In a review for Time (May 8, 2000), R. Z. Sheppard was equally laudatory, noting: “At 67, Roth has not lost one ampere of his power to rile and surprise. . . . Most novelists wouldn’t or couldn’t handle the variety of elements that Roth does here. Few have his radical imagination and technical mastery. Fewer still have his daring.”


With The Dying Animal (2001), Roth revived the character of David Kepesh, who was last seen in the 1977 book The Professor of Desire. Though now an old man, Kepesh continues his conquest of young female students. The book was not well received by critics, despite its titillating subject matter. Keith Gessen wrote for the Nation (June 11, 2001): “It seems obvious that at this point Roth can do little with sex that he hasn’t done already (though he tries in The Dying Animal, he tries). This continued fixation is fictionally fallow. . . . Since sex is, in this view, overdetermined, it’s like writing about gravity.”

In The Plot Against America (2004), Roth presents an alternate history in which the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, a notorious anti-Semite in real life, is voted to the Republican Party’s presidential ticket and then into the White House, unseating Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. Instead of joining the Allies in World War II, Lindbergh signs a pact with Hitler and begins to institute anti-Jewish policies. The novel, narrated by a seven-year-old boy named Philip Roth whose family and home life mirror the author’s own, earned mixed reviews. Jennifer Reese wrote for Entertainment Weekly (October 8, 2004), “With this fascinating, fertile material, Roth has spun an unconvincing fantasy that falls far short of his finest work. While his depictions of the Roth family’s idyllic pre-Lindbergh existence (and Philip’s vibrant, eccentric inner life) are detailed and persuasive, he has set them against a cardboard backdrop of a fatally underimagined alternative America.” Despite such mixed reviews, the book won a number of accolades, among them the 2005 Sidewise Award for alternate history and the 2005 James Fenimore Cooper Prize in the category of best historical fiction.


Roth chose death as the focus of his 2006 novel, Everyman, after witnessing many of his friends grow old and die. The story concerns the life, slow decay, and eventual death of the unnamed main character. The events of his life appear out of sequence and are presented as increasingly common and universal the narrator grows older. Describing Everyman as “essentially a medical biography,” James Poniewozik wrote for Time (May 15, 2006), “It is to Roth’s credit that he cannot quite bring himself to write a book as dull and flat as Everyman‘s concept seems to demand. His style repeatedly breaks its leash, as at the funeral, when the protagonist’s brother gives a moving eulogy and his estranged son struggles violently against unbidden grief.” That book won him a 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award, making him the award’s only three-time winner. Roth was also honored with a PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement and a 2007 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2007 Roth published Exit Ghost, the ninth book narrated by Zuckerman, which finds Roth’s alter-ego, now aged 71, in search of a New York specialist to perform surgery to treat his incontinence and impotence, and lusting after a well-endowed 30-year-old short-story writer.


In 2008 Roth published Indignation, a novel whose main character, the Newark-born Marcus Messner, flees his overprotective father during the Korean War and transfers to Winesburg College, in Ohio, in an effort to emulate the preppy students he sees on the school’s catalogue cover. Characterized by reviewer Rita D. Jacobs for World Literature Today (November 1, 2008) as a return to “his roots” the book examines the familiar subjects of identity, sex, and death. In February 2009 Houghton Mifflin announced the expected publication dates for Roth’s next two novels. “The Humbling” is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2009 and will explore the unexpected sexual awakening of an aging stage actor; and “Nemesis,” which has a 2010 publication date, will recount a polio epidemic in World War II-era Newark.


Several of Roth’s books have been adapted as films, including The Human Stain (2003) and Elegy (2007), which was based on The Dying Animal. He is the only author whose novels appeared more than twice on the 2006 New York Times Book Review list of the most important works of American literature in the last quarter century, which was based on surveys of writers, critics, editors, and others in the literary world. Among the 22 books featured on that list, six were penned by Roth: American Pastoral, The Counterlife, Operation Shylock, Sabbath’s Theater, The Plot Against America, and The Human Stain.

Roth was previously married to the distinguished British actress Claire Bloom. The couple, who wed in 1990, had first met in 1965 when they were both otherwise attached and had lived together since 1976. They separated after four years of marriage. In 1996 Bloom published her autobiography, Leaving a Doll’s House, in which she detailed her turbulent relationship with Roth. (Eve, the traitorous wife in I Married a Communist, was generally thought by critics to be based on Bloom.) Since 1973 Roth has lived on his 40-acre farm in northwestern Connecticut.

Roth died of heart failure at the age of 85 on May 22, 2018 in Manhattan. He is buried at Bard College Cemetery in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.


Suggested Reading: New York Oct. 1, 2007; New Yorker p96 Sep. 20, 2004; Time p59 May 15, 2006; World Literature Today p66 Nov. 1, 2008


Selected Works: Goodbye, Columbus, 1959; Letting Go, 1962; When She Was Good, 1967; Portnoy’s Complaint, 1969; Our Gang, 1971; The Great American Novel, 1973; My Life as a Man, 1974; The Professor of Desire, 1977; The Ghost Writer, 1979; Zuckerman Unbound, 1981; The Anatomy Lesson, 1983; The Counterlife, 1986; The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography, 1988; Deception: A Novel, 1990; Patrimony: A True Story, 1991; Operation Shylock: A Confession, 1993; Sabbath’s Theater, 1995; American Pastoral, 1997; I Married a Communist, 1998; The Human Stain, 2000; The Dying Animal, 2001; The Plot Against America, 2004; Everyman, 2006; Exit Ghost, 2007; Indignation, 2008

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