Remembering Philip Roth, prolific American writer and 'ruthlessly honest observer'

Remembering Philip Roth, prolific American writer and 'ruthlessly honest observer'

While predecessors such as Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud wrote of the Jews' painful adjustment from immigrant life, Roth's characters represented the next generation. The accolades and the novels came quickly, including "American Pastoral", "I Married a Communist", and "The Plot Against America".

He published his debut collection of short stories, "Goodbye, Columbus", at the age of 26 - a close-to-the-bone look at the materialist values of the Jewish immigrant milieu in which grew up. His career spanned 50 years, 30 books, three PEN/Faulkners, two National Book Awards, and one Pulitzer. "If I'm not an American, I'm nothing", said Roth.

For many, Mr. Roth would be inextricably linked to one of the great comic, sexually charged novels of recent memory, 1969's "Portnoy's Complaint", in which the lead character appears nearly overwhelmed with lust.

Roth retired from writing in 2012, but by no means fell into obscurity-indeed, his seemingly prescient imaginations of American politics only gained traction with the advent of Donald Trump's administration, particularly his 2004 novel The Plot Against America, which tells the story of aviator and Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh's victory against Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential elections. Roth was the author of more than 25 books, and a giant in American literature.

"I don't want to read any more of it, write any more of it, and I don't even want to talk about it anymore ..."

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He identified himself as an American writer, not a Jewish one, but for Roth the American experience and the Jewish experience were often the same.

Ambitious and unusual, The Plot Against America tells an alternate version of 20th century history in which aviator and anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh wins the Republican nomination for U.S. president for the 1940 election and defeats Franklin Roosevelt.

Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, and was raised in the city's Weequahic neighborhood, wedged between Routes 78 and 22.

He was well known for writing about his Jewish upbringing as well as American ideas, the human body and personal identity.

"The death of Philip Roth marks, in its way, the end of a cultural era as definitively as the death of Pablo Picasso did in 1973", he wrote.

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The book topped The New York Times best-seller list for the year and turned its reclusive author into a celebrity - an uncomfortable position that he would later satirise in novels such as "Zuckerman Unbound" (1981) and "Operation Shylock" (1993).

Although his novels often explored the Jewish experience in America, Roth, who said he was an atheist, rejected being labeled a Jewish-American writer. Nine of his novels featured his fictional alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, Exit Ghost), exploring nearly every facet of his identity, from being Jewish to being a writer and a man.

Roth had a long relationship with British actress Claire Bloom but their five-year marriage ended in divorce in 1995.

In one notorious incident, Roth was shaken by a hostile reception he received at a 1962 literary symposium at New York's Yeshiva University. It's enough. I no longer feel this dedication to write what I have experienced my whole life'.

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