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I Married a Communist Paperback – November 2, 1999

76 customer reviews
Book 2 of 3 in the Nathan Zuckerman Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

Iron Rinn (né Ira Ringold) is a self-educated radio actor, married to a spoilt, rags-to-riches beauty, silent-film star Eve Frame (née Chave Fromkin). He is a Communist, and a "sucker for suffering," locked into the cycle of violence from which he has emerged. She has risen by assiduous imitation of what is "classy"--which seems to include a wide swathe of anti-Semitism--and ultimately denounces her husband as a Soviet spook. And who would be the narrator of this McCarthy-era meltdown? None other than Philip Roth's longtime alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, who learns the full tragedy several decades later, owing to a chance encounter with Ira's brother: "I'm the only person living who knows Ira's story," 90-year-old Murray Ringold tells Nathan, "you're the only person still living who cares about it."

Characteristically, Nathan also discovers that his own story was bound up with the blacklistings and ruined careers of the immediate postwar period. It seems that he had been tainted by his association with the Ringolds--Murray was in fact his high-school teacher--and was denied the Fulbright scholarship he deserved. "They had you down for Ira's nephew," Murray tells Nathan. "The FBI didn't always get everything right." Roth's acerbic style and keen eye for emotional detail goes to the heart of this moment of high tragedy in which the American dream was damaged beyond repair. --Lisa Jardine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Disconcerting echoes of Roth's relationship with Claire Bloom, as revealed in her memoir, Leaving the Doll's House, haunt Roth's angry but oddly inert 23rd novel. As in American Pastoral, Roth again deals with the Newark of his youth, and with the sons of Jewish immigrants to whom America has given opportunity and even riches?and how they are swept off course by the forces of history. Roth's old alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, narrates the story of Ira Ringold, aka Iron Rinn, a supremely idealistic political radical and celebrated radio star of the 1950s who is blacklisted and brought to ruin when his wife, Eva Frame (a self-hating Jewish actress born Chava Fromkin), writes an expose called I Married A Communist. The impetus for Eva's treacherous act is Ira's insistence that she evict her 24-year-old daughter from their house; the resemblance to Bloom's revelations of Roth's similar demand is too close to miss, and Roth's shrill belaboring of the issue seems a thinly disguised vendetta. Even high-pitched scenes of family conflict don't bring the novel to life. One problem is that the flat flashback narration shared between the 64-year-old Nathan and Ira's 90-year-old brother, Murray, is stultifyingly dull. Some fine Roth touches do appear: his evocation of the Depression years through the McCarthy era has clarity and vigor. But Ira's aggressively boorish behavior as he struggles with his conscience over having abandoned his Marxist ideals to assume a bourgeois lifestyle is never credible, and his turgid ideological rants against the American government are jackhammers of repetitious invective. In addition, the depiction of an adolescent Nathan as a precocious writer and social philosopher and the saintly Murray's infallible memory of long conversations with Ira?even between Ira and Eva in bed?challenge the reader's credulity. For those who lived through the years Roth evokes, this novel will have some resonance. For others, its belligerent tone and lack of dramatic urgency will be a turn-off. 150,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More from Philip Roth
One of America's most respected and prolific writers, Philip Roth masterfully captures the complexity of the modern American experience in his novels. Visit Amazon's Philip Roth Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International Edition edition (November 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This slim, dense novel of an ugly period in American history would most certainly have been overlooked but for two things: Philip Roth's name on the cover, and Claire Bloom's bitter memoir of her divorce from Roth. There is only one way to say it: yes, this novel plays a chillingly mean game of So There Claire, and yes, that is what keeps you turning the pages, at least on the first reading. Having said this, it is time to give Roth credit for having written a far more complex novel than alleged by his detractors on this score. The Roth-Bloom story is not, in fact, transplanted wholesale into a time when gossip-mongering really did have the power of life and death. Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, is in his late teens and flirting with radical politics before going away to college; his idol is the book's protagonist, Ira Ringold, a man quite unlike Roth; and it is Ringold who marries the Claire Bloom figure, "Eve Frame." To be quite fair, most of what is revealed about the Ringold-Frame marriage could have been inferred from Bloom's own words. And given the number she did on Roth, Bloom gets off lightly as far as her character goes: she is said to be vain, petty, and histrionic. No big surprise. Roth's bile is reserved for "Eve Frame's" monstrous daughter (whether true or not, an unforgettable portrait) and, interestingly, for "Katrina Van Tassel Grant," the actress's monstrous best friend. In reality, "Katrina" was probably Francine du Plessix Gray, Bloom's best friend, a writer and journalist well known for her damning early reports on Richard Nixon. Gray would have to be a poor sport not to laugh a bit on finding herself portrayed as a fanatic anti-Communist and, later, a mourner at Nixon's funeral.Read more ›
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Paul Frandano on January 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In many respects, the two most recent novels of Philip Roth represent a long meditation on Tolstoi's famous observation and suggest a common wellspring of the unhappy family narratives. Roth goes as far as to put Tolstoi's words into the mouth of Murray Ringold, the high school English teacher who taught Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, the virtues of "cri-ti-cal thinking" and who, near the end of his life some fifty years later, unfolds the fate of his brother Ira, the radio personality "Iron Rinn" and young Nathan's boyhood mentor. Forget what you have read about I Married a Communist as Roth's roman a clef payback for Claire Bloom's recent memoire of her difficult life with the novelist. It is much, much more and is of a thematic and emotional fabric with Roth's great American Pastoral. Roth's project, of which this is the second installment, now seems to be "Nathan Zuckerman's America," thickly textured stories of lives collectively deranged and rendered dysfunctional by America and its political demons, now the MacCarthy era, Red-hunting, and the blacklist. Along the way we have countless carefully observed digressions on, among other things, taxidermy, how to make "literature," New Jersey's geology, the power of "the word," the triumph of lowbrow, and (of course) Newark in the 'forties and 'fifties. One remains in awe of Roth's undiminished ability to mine his own experience, augmented by prodigious research, to turn out superb, universal novels like I Married a Communist. Is he our greatest novelist? Consider the oeuvre--Portnoy, The Zuckerman tetralogy (which includes the magical The Ghost Writer), The Counterlife, Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, and now this--and compare his accomplishment to that of any living American writer. It isn't even close.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Hannaford on November 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
I Married a Communist is a brilliant novel, one of few recent novels I've read through nonstop for a long time. It combines pathos and humor in laying bare a variety of important topics:both the well-intentioned but foolish Marxism and the evil witch-hunting manias of the 1950s, anti-Semitism and the integration of Jews into American life, issues of betrayal and loss, the decline of Newark, the inspiration of a good teacher. Yes, it's partly autobiographical. But the betrayed hero, Ira Ringold, who represents Roth at least in part, is part admirable giant/ part obsessive creep.
The book is curious in having two levels of narration. The first is Roth's quasi-alter-ego the novelist Zuckerman, and in part this is Zuckerman's bildungsroman from the Newark classroom to the fantasies of international socialism to the University of Chicago. For Zuckerman Ira was an almost irresistible mentor, as was his brother, the teacher who inspired him to become a writer. That brother, Murray, is the second narrator, filling in Zuckerman on the parts of the story he missed, either because he was too young to understand at that time or because he separated from Ira and only heard of his end second-hand. The interplay between these two narrators, looking back over some 45 years is subtle and crafty, and the book easily moves from one consciousness to another. Murray in particular is a brlliant character: a Jewish war hero (WW II); a stimulating Socratic high school English teacher who makes Shakespeare live for his students; a union organizer who fights a witch hunt-based job dismissal and triumphs years later; a loving father, husband, and brother; and at the end a clear-minded 90-year old survivor.
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