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Requiem for Harlem: Mercy of a Rude Stream Volume IV, A Novel Paperback – December 15, 1998
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It's a shame that Henry Roth died in 1995, because now readers will never know what happens to his fictional alter ego, Ira Stigman, once he leaves City College. For readers familiar with Roth's series of autobiographical novels, Requiem for Harlem is the last of four books chronicling the childhood and young adulthood of Stigman; for those who have not yet discovered Roth, consider reading the first three in the series to get a handle on the dark, complicated, and rich world Ira Stigman occupies. Set in 1920s Harlem, Roth's novels explore the life of Jewish immigrants. In earlier volumes, the reader meets Ira, his sister Minnie, his cousin Stella, and his parents. Home life for the Stigmans is hardly heartwarming: the parents are locked in a violent marriage, and the children are involved in incestuous relationships. By the time Roth and Stigman have reached the events chronicled in Requiem for Harlem, Ira and Minnie are no longer sleeping together, but Ira and Stella are.
Requiem for Harlem follows Ira through his college years and his attempts to separate from his family, his neighborhood, and his own past. His childish passions for Minnie and Stella give way to his attraction to an older woman, Professor Edith Welles--an attraction that is as complex in its own way as his earlier relationships with his sister and cousin. It's unfortunate that there will be no further volumes taking us through the rest of Ira's life, but for those who wonder what happened to him, there is the example of Henry Roth to guide us. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The fourth?and final?volume of Roth's astonishing, largely autobiographical bildungsroman, Mercy of a Rude Stream, retains the brilliant insight of the previous volumes with only a fraction of their suspense. The story picks up in 1927, six months after volume three, From Bondage, left off. Still living in the Harlem slums with his parents and young sister, City College senior Ira Stigman is on fire with Milton's poetry and wracked by guilt over his sexual relations with his 16-year-old cousin Stella. Although the reader has known since volume three that Ira's eventual deliverer and muse will be his NYU English instructor (and the mistress of his best friend), Roth delays the inception of this affair until the novel's conclusion and meanwhile dwells on what seem red herrings: Stella's pregnancy scare and her grandfather's apparent discovery of her trysts with Ira. Roth, who died in 1995 (leaving two more novels, which will be published separately), covers little new ground here, although the writing displays its usual nuance and technical virtuosity. The novel's most interesting revelations concern the mental illness of Ira's mother's and Ira's ruthlessness in getting the "hell out of Harlem," even if it means betraying his best friend or brutalizing Stella. This is a chilling portrait of selfishness struggling through art towards justification.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Never in my young life have I read a contemporary work of fiction with as much raw frustrated energy and literary intellect. If there could be an American Hugo of the soul then perhaps Roth is it. This final book, and the three before it, have profoundly and fundamentally changed my view of the world and of my beloved city, New York, for ever more. I only wish that there was more of Roth to read, and that there were more readers of Jewish fiction who care to create a groundswell of appreciation for Roth. The pain in these four novels is worth it, I feel as if I have ended a long frienship now that "Requiem" is over.