About: American Swede suffers in 60s US
Style: 3rd person
Where: US (New Jersey)
As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century's promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic
bliss. Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father's glove
factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede's beautiful American luck deserts him.
For Swede's adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager?a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight
Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is
And how did this affect him-the glorification, the sanctification, of every hook shot he sank, every pass he leaped up and caught, every line drive he rifled for a double down the left-field line?
Is this what made him that staid and stone-faced boy? Or was the mature-seeming sobriety the outward manifestation of an arduous inward struggle to keep in check the narcissism that an entire
community was ladling with love? The high school cheerleaders had a cheer for the Swede. Unlike the other cheers, meant to inspire the whole team or to galvanize the spectators, this was a rhythmic,
foot-stomping tribute to the Swede alone, enthusiasm for his perfection undiluted and unabashed. The cheer rocked the gym at basketball games every time he took a rebound or scored a point, swept
through our side of City Stadium at football games any time he gained a yard or intercepted a pass. Even at the sparsely attended home baseball games up at Irvington Park, where there was no
cheerleading squad eagerly kneeling at the sidelines, you could hear it thinly chanted by the handful of Weequahic stalwarts in the wooden stands not only when the Swede came up to bat but when he
made no more than a routine putout at first base. It was a cheer that consisted of eight syllables, three of them his name, and it went, Bah bah-bah! Bah bah bah . . . bah-bah! and the tempo, at
football games particularly, accelerated with each repetition until, at the peak of frenzied adoration, an explosion of skirt-billowing cartwheels was ecstatically discharged and the orange gym
bloomers of ten sturdy little cheerleaders flickered like fireworks before our marveling eyes . . . and not for love of you or me but of the wonderful Swede. "Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The
Love'! . . . Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The Love'! . . . Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The Love'!"
Roth mercilessly sets a family destroyed by a daughter's betrayal against the failure of the American dream to deliver its promise. The excruciating honesty of the dialogue will strike a painful
chord between fathers and daughters, yet Roth is at his most powerful depicting the unspoken misery in man's listless survival of tragedy.
Guardian 26th June 1998
Not so good:
Although Mr. Roth sometimes works too hard to turn Seymour into a symbol (he is shown imitating Johnny Appleseed and is compared to John F. Kennedy), although his efforts to encompass three
generations of history are occasionally strained, "Pastoral" is far more fluent, far more emotionally tactile than the novel's broader outline suggests.
New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, 15th April 1997
About the author
Born March 19, 1933, Philip Roth grew up in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, as the second child of first-generation American parents, Jews of Galician descent, and graduated from
Newark's Weequahic High School in 1950. Roth attended Bucknell University, earning a degree in English. He pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in English
literature in 1955 and worked briefly as an instructor in the university's writing program. Roth taught creative writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University. He continued his academic
career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught comparative literature before retiring from teaching in 1991. In May 2011, Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime
achievement in fiction on the world stage, the fourth winner of the biennial prize.