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The Breast Paperback – March 15, 1994

3.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A radical, complex, and moving book...the best example yet of Roth's astonishing prowess when he is at the top of his talent and control." —Ted Solotaroff, Esquire

"A new shock world of sensual possibility.... Need one say again that Roth is an admirable novelist who never steps twice into the same river?" —Anthony Burgess

"The Breast is terrific...inventive and sane and very funny. The trick which is the heart of the book is brilliant...and rich with meaning." —John Gardner, The New York TImes Book Review

"Hilarious, serious, visionary, logical, sexual-philosophical; the ending amazes—the joke takes three steps beyond savagery and satire and turns into a sublimeness of pity. One knows when one is reading something that will permanently enter the culture." —Cynthia Ozick

From the Inside Flap

Like a latter-day Gregor Samsa, Professor David Kepesh wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed. But where Kafka's protagonist turned into a giant beetle, the narrator of Philip Roth's richly conceived fantasy has become a 155-pound female breast. What follows is a deliriously funny yet touching exploration of the full implications of Kepesh's metamorphosis--a daring, heretical book that brings us face to face with the intrinsic strangeness of sex and subjectivity.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749011
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,014,285 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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Being a fan of Kafka's work as well as Roth, I was intrigued by this quite bizarre concept. As I read the book it not only reminded me of Kafka's "Metamorphisis", but it also brought to mind Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun" with its theme of the loss of self.

This book is designed to be somewhat of a parody of "Metamorphisis", yet it takes Kafka's story from a different angle. While Kafka's story focuses on a general theme of isolation and loneliness, Roth further develops his recurring character Robert Kepesh's sense of sexual frustration. Along the way, Kepesh struggles with whether he really is a breast while being visited by Claire, his father, and a less than sympathetic colleague. With these visits, he tries to accomodate his new status with continuing a normal life. Yet we never seem to grasp the motive or reason for Kepesh's change.

"The Breast" is certainly a strange work in the scope of Philip Roth's writing. Many who enjoy his other works may be repulsed by the image of this book. While it is certainly not a recognized as some of this other writings, I believe it is near the pinnacle of his list of works.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
- opening sentence of "The Metamorphosis," by Franz Kafka Gregor had it easy compared to Professor David Kepesh, a college professor who wakes up one morning to find he has been transformed into a gigantic breast, in Philip Roth's aptly-titled "The Breast."
"It began oddly," Roth starts the 89-page book, and from the opening sentence readers are plunged into the new world of Kepesh.
Refreshingly enough, Roth refrains from turning "The Breast" into an extended pornographic joke. Instead, he spends his time exploring David's state of mind- how would you feel if you suddenly transformed into a giant mammary gland?- which makes for an interesting psychological drama.
First, David describes the experience of being a breast as though he does not quite believe it himself: Is it all a dream? How is he able to communicate with the others around him? Where'd his face go?
Later, David's mentality changes, first to a perverted interest in a female nurse who washes him, then utter paranoia that he is under constant surveillance while in his hospital room, and finally a blatant refusal to accept his condition and the belief that he has gone mad.
Things degenerate to the point where Kepesh believes he cannot hear his doctors' actual diagnoses; because of his "insanity" he only hears what he wants to hear.
Throughout all this, we see how David's wife, Claire, deals with her husband's new state, as well as the reactions from his father, his doctors and nurses, and his mentor, who collapses in giggles at the sight of David the Breast.
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Format: Paperback
What should David Kepesh make of the fact that he's been transformed into a human breast? That's the premise of this Kafkaesque short novel (perhaps better thought of as a long short story). And of course as Kepesh deals with his own identity crisis (after the to-be-expected "why me!?" outburst, he questions the nature of reality, thinks he might just be insane, and finally is forced to face the fact that he indeed is a breast), other characters must deal with his transformation as well. Some of the most humorous scenes involve his academic colleague sending him tapes of "Hamlet" and his father acting as if his son is just suffering from a temporary illness. Although carrying it too far into the extreme, Roth's point in the book is that nothing in life is a sure bet, and that the totally absurd often becomes one's reality and must be accepted as such. Point well taken, but as a novel there isn't much else going on besides Kepesh accepting and internalizing this single idea, which makes it better thought of as a short story. Good, but not a major Roth achievement.
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The allusions to Kafka's "Metamorphosis" in comparison to this work seem a little easy and not altogether reliable--yes, there is a transformation, but the result of the transformation goes a little more in the way of Gogol's "The Nose," how the aftermath becomes more comical and grounded in social satire, than through the family exploration of Kafka. Roth, no doubt, had some sense of this when he referenced Gogol in the work itself, but I tend to look at this work a light closer to Trumbo's _Johnny Got His Gun_, with the subject matter exploring more of the sexual revolution than war. Trumbo may be a little more heavy-handed, but the lack of limbs in Kepesh when he transforms into a gigantic mammory gland, and his limited perception of and contact with the outside world, make this work more akin to Trumbo with a sprinkling of Gogol.

But one thing is never in doubt--and that this book is FUNNY. Roth has an amazing handle of comedy on the page--a tough craft to master, mind you. This read is very short and quick, but it sure gives you some images to haunt and humor you for a long time. Kepesh's sudden sexual voraciousness and his lapses into hysteria and out-and-out psychosis, all while burbling about as a giant breast in a makeshift bra in a hospital bed, are the very stuff of sexual revolution, the sensual and boundlessness of desire overtaking the stuffy life of the mind that Kepesh had allowed himself to fall into. A breast that cries and screams and develops a desire for women to use its nipple for their pleasure? I would be surprised if no graphic novelist has considered making this work visual--that would be either a failure of imagination, or simply a certain amount of illiteracy.
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