Sunday, June 7, 2009

American Pastoral - Philip Roth

'American Pastoral' by Philip Roth is the story of third-generation Jewish-American Seymour "Swede" Levov. A legendary Newark high school athlete and local hero, Swede serves in a military role at the end of WWII and eventually inherits control of his family's Newark glove manufacturing business. Some family strife results from his choices of marrying Dawn, an Irish-American, Catholic former Miss New Jersey, and moving into an old Jersey country farmhouse far outside Newark, but his life mostly resembles a suburban fable of peace and success.

Swede and Dawn have a daughter Merry, who transforms from a delightful child into an angry teenager consumed with violent leftist fanaticism. Roth's protagonist in the novel Nathan Zuckerman was a childhood acquaintance of the Levov family. Decades later, after meeting with Swede and later his brother Jerry, Zuckerman explores the Swede's story, and most of the book is Zuckerman's account of the Swede's disintegrating life during his middle age.

The united States faced some turbulent times during the late 1960's and early 1970's like racial discord, the Vietnam war, the Weathermen and Watergate all of which feature prominently in the novel. The reader needs to have a basic understanding of these historic incidents in order to fully understand Merry's reasons for her extreme views.

Swede's father bemoans the transformation of Newark into a blighted, crime-ridden failure, and urges his son to move the glove factory elsewhere. Even though the plot fades towards a somewhat unsatisfying end, this novel offers strong, memorable characters powered by vivid human emotion. Philip Roth's writing is arduous to comprehend at times for his first time reader, but also is very genuine and well written where dialogue among characters is involved.

Some trivia from wikipedia:

"The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in "All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels"."

"The film rights to it were later optioned by Paramount Pictures. In 2006, it was one of the runners-up in the "What is the Greatest Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years?" contest held by the New York Times Book Review."


Smita said...

Nice reviews :-)

Our tastes in books are so different...had not heard of this one as well :)

Rahul Anand said...

haha yes, I get that comment a lot.

I try to read different authors rather than stick to a few favorites. There have been some authors who I could not I cannot post reviews of their books.

ZiLliOnBiG said...

Thanks for this, i shall check the book out.

BTW, Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.Ciao:))

Rahul Anand said...

You're welcome :)

Aparna said...

First time on your blog. I have read a few books that you have reviewed, though not the last one. All books are not readily available in India. It was good to meet another book lover. Cheers.

Rahul Anand said...

Thanks Aparna, yes sometimes its difficult to find good books, but luckily I have a huge public library nearby. :)