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0489 | Nemesis | Philip Roth

0489 | Nemesis | Philip Roth post image

Context: While I was reading this, Nanika joined us from a local animal shelter.

And so back to Philip Roth after a long break of nearly six years and The Plot Against America which I thought was excellent. Nemesis is also, like Plot, set among a Jewish community of urban New Jersey. Apart from that, including it’s rating, it differs completely from the earlier Plot. I didn’t think it rated highly enough to be on the 1001 books list despite its inclusion in the latest edition.

So there’s this young Jewish guy and, because Bucky’s eyesight has prevented him from fighting in WW2, he’s doing his utmost to be the best playground supervisor he can be in the sweltering summer of 1944. His Jewish neighbourhood quietly sweats as the children gather to play baseball and skip in his playground, despite the heat.

At that time, polio stalked various communities of New Jersey (not just Jewish ones) and it’s not long before the kids Bucky knows and loves start succumbing, some of them fatally to the debilitating disease. Heartbroken and desperate to protect them, he faces a moral dilemmawhen his Jewish girlfriend invites him to take up a made-to-measure job opening in the cool hills out of the city.

I’ll not spoil if for you. Roth does plenty of that. From the title on, you know things aren’t going to end well and, before you know it, Bucky’s idyll has become the scene of terror. Quite what the terror is, I’ll leave you to imagine.

I’m really not sure what Roth was attempting with this novel. It doesn’t really do much to define its purpose. Bucky isn’t a deeply drawn character and everyone around him is barely sketched in. Even the person narrating the story only just makes it onto the scene before the brief book ends. It left me wondering why on earth it was added to the 1001 list in its most recent edition.

Perhaps it made it because it was, as declared by Roth, to be the author’s last novel. If so, it seems about time he rested.


The first case of polio that summer came early in June, right after Memorial Day, in a poor Italian neighborhood crosstown from where we lived.


This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show

PROGRESS  nemesisp
RATING Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings
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