Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Philip Roth, fearless and celebrated author, dies at 85

Philip Roth, fearless and celebrated author, dies at 85 Philip Roth, fearless and celebrated author, dies at 85
Michele Schwartz | 26 May, 2018, 10:58

Prolific novelist Philip Roth, a dominant force in American literature throughout the latter half of the 20th century, has died, USA media said late Tuesday.

He added that Roth "has done more than anyone to further the literary exploration of the Holocaust, in his own writings, and by promoting great works and writers throughout the world". He said Nemesis (2010), about a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey, where he was born and which was the setting of many of his books, was his last.

"No one I know of has foreseen an America like the one we live in today", he said. "I need some reality, to rub two sticks of reality together to get a fire of reality". And in 2012, he officially announced that he did.

A contemporary of Don DeLillo, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer, the late novelist was the doyen of a whole literary era. In 1997 his book American Pastoral earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He was also the recipient of numerous awards, such as the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, a pair of National Book Critics Circle awards, and two National Book Awards. The book was published by Virago Press, whose founder, Carmen Callil, was the same judge who quit years later from the Booker committee.

He long managed to sustain his literary output both in terms of quality as well as quantity, as exemplified by his widely admired political trilogy that included "American Pastoral" as well as "I Married a Communist" (1998) and "The Human Stain" (2000).

"It's a bit like hearing that Keith Richards has given up rock and roll, or that the Pope is abandoning religion", the critic James Walton wrote at the time.

Through the years, Philip Roth has won wide acclaim for his novels - but had a rockier time seeing his work adapted by Hollywood.

"I had reached the end".

"I did not want to, did not intend to, and was not able to speak for American Jews; I surely did not deny, and no one questioned the fact, that I spoke to them, and I hope to others as well", Roth wrote in his essay "Writing About Jews". "I set out upon the great task of doing nothing".

For his conclusion, he quoted Joe Lewis, the heavyweight boxing champion of the 1930s and '40s: "I did the best I could with what I had". "If I am not an American, I am nothing", or, as he summarized on anor occasion rejecting Community dimension and highlighting his goal of universality: "I do not write Jew, I write American".

In the Trump era, or in a divisive world for that matter, it is impossible to read his reimagining of history in The Plot Against America - what if F.D. Roosevelt had lost in 1940 and white supremacist Charles Lindbergh had won? - and not be touched by its eerie foreboding.

The news was confirmed by Roth's agent Andrew Wylie.

But, first, how Roth himself saw his work. In an interview with the New York Times (paywall) earlier this year, Roth denied the parallels between Lindbergh and Trump due to their "difference in stature".

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