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Nemesis [Kindle Edition]

Philip Roth
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (568 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2011

In the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark," a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful twenty-three-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children’s summer camp high in the Poconos—whose "mountain air was purified of all contaminants"—Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantor’s passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.

Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roth’s late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roth continues his string of small, anti–Horatio Alger novels (The Humbling; etc.) with this underwhelming account of Bucky Cantor, the young playground director of the Chancellor Avenue playground in 1944 Newark. When a polio outbreak ravages the kids at the playground, Bucky, a hero to the boys, becomes spooked and gives in to the wishes of his fiancée, who wants him to take a job at the Pocono summer camp where she works. But this being a Roth novel, Bucky can't hide from his fate. Fast-forward to 1971, when Arnie Mesnikoff, the subtle narrator and one of the boys from Chancellor, runs into Bucky, now a shambles, and hears the rest of his story of piercing if needless guilt, bad luck, and poor decisions. Unfortunately, Bucky's too simple a character to drive the novel, and the traits that make him a good playground director--not very bright, quite polite, beloved, straight thinking--make him a lackluster protagonist. For Roth, it's surprisingly timid.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The fourth in the great and undiminished Roth’s recent cycle of short novels follows Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008), and The Humbug (2009), and as exceptional as those novels are, this latest in the series far exceeds its predecessors in both emotion and intellect. In general terms, the novel is a staggering visit to a time and place when a monumental health crisis dominated the way people led their day-to-day lives. Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940s (a common setting for this author) experienced, as the war in Europe was looking better for the Allies, a scare as deadly as warfare. The city has been hit by an epidemic of polio. Of course, at that time, how the disease spread and its cure were unknown. The city is in a panic, with residents so suspicious of other individuals and ethnic groups that emotions quickly escalate into hostility and even rage. Our hero, and he proves truly heroic, is Bucky Canter, playground director in the Jewish neighborhood of Newark. As the summer progresses, Bucky sees more and more of his teenage charges succumb to the disease. When an opportunity presents itself to leave the city for work in a Catskills summer camp, Bucky is torn between personal safety and personal duty. What happens is heartbreaking, but the joy of having met Bucky redeems any residual sadness. --Brad Hooper

Product Details

  • File Size: 342 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0042JSMNW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,129 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
150 of 161 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version missing a page September 22, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I hate leaving a review like this because it has nothing to do with the quality of writing, which I find compelling and evocative. The Kindle edition is missing page 261 (which is the beginning of the last chapter in a section and therefore almost the worst possible page to miss). I looked all over Amazon's site and could not find a means to report this so here it is, for all to see.

Buyer beware of the missing "page"!
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171 of 186 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
[NOTE added 09/07/2013:] - Because of a coding error on Amazon's part, Amazon has merged the customer reviews of Jo Nesbo's detective novel, "Nemesis", with the customer reviews of Philip Roth's "Nemesis." This affects both books' product pages and it is confusing to potential readers of each book. Amazon is aware of the snafu but hasn't yet corrected the problem. The review below relates to Philip Roth's "Nemesis".]

One thing the prospective reader may want to know is that Philip Roth's "Nemesis" is an old-fashioned novel. The book has the glow of a twilit, though painful, reminiscence. It is set in the Jewish Weequahic section of Newark during the war year of 1944. Roth imagines the community suffering through a devastating polio epidemic that cruelly maims and kills its youngest members. The protagonist is Bucky Cantor, a young man, a stalwart common man, whose decision whether to remain at or abandon his post as summer playground director will have fateful consequences.

Very early in his career Roth sent to Saul Bellow a draft of a short story he was trying to get published, asking for comments and advice. Bellow replied: "My reaction to your story was on the positive side of the scale, strongly. But mixed, too. I liked the straightness of it, the plainness." A half century later, Roth's new novel respects Bellow's preference. Direct, straight and plain, "Nemesis" unfolds in a manner you may not immediately associate with Roth. It is as if, having chosen to set his tale in the mid-twentieth century, Roth decided to set aside the signature style and quirks he's perfected in the last few decades, and, instead, hark back to the American literature of that earlier period, embracing its feel and direction.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gritty European Police Series Continues January 26, 2009
Format:Hardcover
In the tradition of the great European crime novels like "The Laughing Policeman", "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, Nesbo continues with his Harry Hole novels in this terrific new entry.

Hole, struggling with his alcoholism as well as his new love relationship and the death of his partner, finds himself caught up in trying to solve a murderous bank robbery while trying to convince his superiors that his partner's death is - contrary to their belief - still unsolved and that he should be allowed to pursue an investigation into it.

This is a compelling entry in the series, with rich characterizations and impeccable plotting.

The only thing that readers should be aware of is that the novels of the series published in English thus far have been translated and published out of sequence; this is actually the second book of the series, though it's come out in English third, and the plot line about his partner's murder was resolved in the third book - which was actually the first one published in English (The Devil's Star). Did you follow that?

If so, dig in and enjoy.
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73 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Strangeness of Fate October 5, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Philip Roth reimagines history like no other author alive. He takes true events and displaces them, adding his own blend of imagination and plausibility.
Though "Nemesis" is placed in the same category in Roth's bibliography as "Everyman", "Indignation", and "The Humbling", it actually falls closer to "The Plot Against America" in terms of plot and style.

There was no polio epidemic in New Jersey in 1945, but Roth imagines one, and then proceeds to tell us of its devastating effects, not just on those stricken with the disease, but also a young man who witnesses these events. Bucky Cantor is a twenty-three year Physical Education teacher, and unlike some of Roth's other heros, is not a tormented intellectual, but rather a solid individual, truly injured at what is happening to the children around him. Gradually, as the epidemic spreads, Bucky begins asking himself questions for which there are no answers.

This is one of the first books in which some of Philip Roth's infamous outrage is directed at the divine. In past novels, it is almost always men and women (usually women) who are the source of the protagonist's crises. But this time, the nemesis is a disease, a germ which cannot be killed at this point in history. It is nameless, faceless, and silent. Roth recognizes that we as human beings require an enemy, someone to blame for the inexplicable happenings in our lives. Who better than God to point the finger at when young children, not old enough to yet be stained by guilt, are ravaged by pain and then die? There is an extremely powerful passage that takes place at a funeral in which Bucky begins to harbor his doubt of the Almighty.

Rather than summarize the plot, I will say that Fate in this novel is a blood hound on the scent of our young hero.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Found him disappointing
Published 1 day ago by Effie P.M. Simmonds
3.0 out of 5 stars NESBO DOES IT AGAIN
PLOT TWISTS N COMPLICATIONS ABOUND .
ENJOY IT .
Pay close attention if you want to figure it out before Harry does.
Published 3 days ago by Michael Bennette
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Love all the Harry Hole novels
Published 3 days ago by Carmel Keeley
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent mystery series from Norway
Harry Hole is always good for a twisty, convoluted mystery that's almost impossible to figure out in advance....and that's what makes these novels so good. Read more
Published 7 days ago by EZ writer
4.0 out of 5 stars ... in this series and I believe this was the best. Plot was a little...
I have read many books in this series and I believe this was the best. Plot was a little confusing at times but overall a very good read.
Published 7 days ago by James P.
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
This book is just excellent. It's a great police procedural and also a very interesting view of WWII from the Scandinavian experience.
Published 7 days ago by Terry A. M. Mumford
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of those great Scandinavian noir detectives.
Published 11 days ago by Mark Harbison
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't go wrong with Nesbo
Cannot go wrong with a Jo Nesbo book. He makes even his Hero real. Flawed, makes mistakes, brilliant, always trying to be better, often failing. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Vanna M. Sandison
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
This is my first Harry Hole book and I enjoyed it very much.

There were times that I became confused because there were a lot of characters with similar names. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Leeanne
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
cerebral suspense
Published 17 days ago by Brenda Deasy
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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.

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French Fries in 1944? No air conditioners?
Air conditioners existed in the early 1940s, but were not common, and were considered expensive. Salinger is portraying people of a higher social status, I think.

As for French fries, they have been in the US since at least 1804, when Thomas Jefferson served them at the White House. McDonald's... Read More
Nov 20, 2010 by Amazon Customer |  See all 2 posts
Hmm, thematic departure?
I dunno. I read Roth because I like his over-the-top characters and the drama with which they screw themselves up despite certain talents or intelligence that they all seem to possess. Where are the clever Portnoyisms, the self-involvement of the Zuckerman character for instance, and the raw... Read More
Oct 6, 2010 by Scarlett |  See all 2 posts
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