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American Pastoral Hardcover – May 12, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 423 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the American Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Philip Roth's 22nd book takes a life-long view of the American experience in this thoughtful investigation of the century's most divisive and explosive of decades, the '60s. Returning again to the voice of his literary alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, Roth is at the top of his form. His prose is carefully controlled yet always fresh and intellectually subtle as he reconstructs the halcyon days, circa World War II, of Seymour "the Swede" Levov, a high school sports hero and all-around Great Guy who wants nothing more than to live in tranquillity. But as the Swede grows older and America crazier, history sweeps his family inexorably into its grip: His own daughter, Merry, commits an unpardonable act of "protest" against the Vietnam war that ultimately severs the Swede from any hope of happiness, family, or spiritual coherence.

From Library Journal

In his latest novel, Roth shows his age. Not that his writing is any less vigorous and supple. But in this autumnal tome, he is definitely in a reflective mood, looking backward. As the book opens, Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, recalls an innocent time when golden boy Seymour "the Swede" Levov was the pride of his Jewish neighborhood. Then, in precise, painful, perfectly rendered detail, he shows how the Swede's life did not turn out as gloriously as expected?how it was, in fact, devastated by a child's violent act. When Merry Levov blew up her quaint little town's post office to protest the Viet Nam war, she didn't just kill passing physician Fred Conlon, she shattered the ties that bound her to her worshipful father. Merry disappears, then eventually reappears as a stick-thin Jain living in sacred povery in Newark, having killed three more people for the cause. Roth doesn't tell the whole story blow by blow but gives us the essentials in luminous, overlapping bits. In the end, the book positively resonates with the anguish of a father who has utterly lost his daughter. Highly recommended.
-?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 423 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; First Edition edition (May 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395860210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395860212
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (423 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One of the knocks on this book, even from reviewers who have liked it, is that it trivializes the rebellious spirit of the 1960s through the screeching lunacy of Merry Levov. There were countless examples of logical, righteous, nonviolent protest, they argue, and by showing only the thoughtless Merry and her equally deranged companion, Rita Cohen, along with the destruction of the Newark race riots (carried out by blacks who, Swede Levov seems to think, are just being ungrateful), Philip Roth comes off as someone who missed the decade altogether, perhaps in seclusion doing research for Portnoy's Complaint.

I think, however, that Roth's one-maybe-two-dimensional portrayal of Merry and the other revolutionary forces of the '60s was precisely the point. This novel was not so much about the turbulent '60s as it was about the disintegration of the '50s. The story is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman and told through the (imagined) eyes of Swede Levov, both of whom graduated high school before 1950. Roth is not only concerned with the collapse of the Swede's American dream, but also with his assimilation into American society, his pursuit and eventual attainment of the American dream -- all typical characterstics of the '50s. The Swede had no concept of the attributes which we typically ascribe to the '60s. He was too busy worrying about how to make the perfect lady's dress glove. The reason Roth did so much research and wrote in such painstaking detail about the glove industry was to tell the reader precisely what Lou and Swede Levov's lives revolved around. Since the Swede is the only character whom we see others through, of course he isn't going to question himself for being concerned with such things as D rings and piece rates.
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Format: Paperback
"American Pastoral" is indeed a special book. It displays none of the often unsettling preoccupation with sex that some of Roth's other books do. This novel examines the rise and fall of a man with a life that all his acquaintances thought was blessed--a start athlete and war hero, who goes on successfully to run his father's glove factory. A non-religious Jew, he marries a pretty Catholic girl (the former Miss New Jersey!), lives in a nice house, and has a pretty daughter, Merry--slips comfortably, in other words, into mainstream America.
Merry grows up, though, to be a sociopath, a fanatic, who as part of the general 60's counterculture movement, commits a terrible act of violence, and has to go into hiding...for the rest of her life. Her act destroys the foundations of Swede's world. We watch him and those close to him slowly disintegrate, emotionally and spiritually. Their decline is not a decline in material fortunes, but it is slow and gruelling nevertheless.
Roth writes like an angel. Much of this book is expository, written in precise, evocative, sometimes Faulkneresque, sometimes academic prose. The characters are vivid, immediate, and believable. This is also an idea book, though, and often the ideas are left abstract...which isn't bad. Roth doesn't try to force answers where perhaps none exist.
This book is truly a treat.
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Format: Hardcover
"American Pastoral" is a remarkable novel which canbe read and enjoyed on a variety of "levels."^M
Stylistically, Philip Roth's prose glides effortlessly between passages of sheer lyricism and Hemmingway-like reality. The characters of Swede Levov, his wife, Dawn, and their daughter Merry, --as well as other characters in the novel---are sharply etched and observed. The dialogue each of the characters speak is right on target and delineates their character without the author imposing his own "voice" upon the words they speak.^M
However, Roth's novel achieves the level of "art" in terms of social commentary and his view that America has somehow lost its soul and sense of direction. A decent, hardworking family--a family that has done its absolute best to raise their daughter to become the kind of person who reflects the best values our country represents---is totally destroyed when their daughter, Merry, becomes a terrorist and eventually lapses into madness. Roth's vision of the world is an extremely depressing if not a totally pessimistic one. Nothing that happens by way of historical or social events seems to make any sense. All is simply "chaos." What happens, simply "happens" and there is nothing one can do to stop the descent into a hell where nothing makes sense---where events totally overwhelm decent parents and their family's attempts to control them. ALL parents and families are not, of course, as Philip Roth describes them. But the trend away from traditional "values" and values which, apart from religion per se or political "correctness" have heretofore given our nation a sense of purpose and unity, are swiftly disappearing--as any, daily reading of contemporary headlines indicate.
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Format: Paperback
I started this book with very high hopes - I'd only read one other Roth, the short and highly sarcastic "The Breast," and I had heard that in recent years he'd turned more sober and objective. To me this meant Roth was coming of age, a voice expressing a fuller range of our hopes, fears, loves and angers.
Much of "American Pastoral" satisfied this desire. Book one (of three) is a 100-or-so page, somewhat tedious prologue, where Roth's alter ego Nathan Zuckerman intruduces the main character and creates a setting to present his secret story. With book two, it settles into a wonderful exploration of inner and outer lives. This central section, and most of book three, is beautifully written and reads effortlessly, making the first part feel worthwhile. By combining real world places (hint - it helps a lot to know New Jersey) and politics, with fictional characters whose lives embody the times and themes, Roth puts us directly into the drama of the story.
This sounds like a cliché; but through lengthy description, we learn by stages about the conflicts inside the main character. Seymour "Swede" Levov, a handsome, Jewish industrialist and high school athletic hero who marries Dawn Dwyer, Miss New Jersey of 1949, and whose vigor and generosity of spirit bring him success in business and to a life in the affluent (and WASPish) Jersey countryside, suffers a tragic fall when his radical daughter Merry goes berserk with one murderous bombing, and then others. As she begins a life on the run, he and Dawn endure recrimination and only-partial recovery. We watch Swede in a journey through his past and his present, an apparently peaceful man who learns to accommodate the real world by devising his own reality.
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