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Zuckerman bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue, 1979-1985
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on September 10, 2013
Episodes from the life of a Jewish American writer, a `trilogy with an epilogue', written in the 1970s/80s and set in the 1950s-70s.
It starts with `The Ghost Writer' set in the 1950s. 20 years later, writer Nathan Zuckerman remembers. As a young man, a student and budding writer, he visited his idol, a literary great, at his home in the Berkshires.
The young man's thoughts were preoccupied by an ongoing conflict with his father about Nathan's way of depicting Jewish life. A conflict of Joycian dimensions, while the older writer's situation is more Jamesian.
Mental romance is added by a young female visitor with unclear identity. Nathan builds an instant crush and imagines her being Anne Frank as a survivor. Wouldn't that solve his trouble with dad?

Volume 2 is `Zuckerman Unbound'. 15 years later, young Nathan is unbound in many ways. He has made money from a bestseller. His father is in a Florida nursing home with dementia and can't accuse him any longer. His mother never accused him anyway, only her friends do. He is separated from his third wife, an unbearable waspish do-gooder. He lives in Manhattan, society is open to his new stardom, and he has only his own paranoid state of mind to blame for his continued troubles.
His Anne Frank obsession continues... he has a brief affair with a film star who had started her career playing Anne on the stage in Ireland.

Volume 3 is `The Anatomy Lesson'. Nathan is 40 and an orphan now. He is plagued by guilt for the anguish that he had caused his parents. He is also plagued by excruciating unexplained pain and he lost the drive to write. He still has the sex drive, but can't have relationships. He becomes thoroughly unlikable and crazier by the day. He hits bottom when he travels to Chicago while on a cocktail of pain killers, vodka and pot. A core element of this third volume is a flood of vulgar rants that the drugged Zuckerman unleashes on strangers. He tries to redefine his life, start all over in a different world. Futile mid-life dreams.

The Epilogue takes Nathan to Prague, where he meets writers with real world (political) problems, as opposed to his own (minor?) domestic issues of a Freudian nature. Does it cure him from his navel gazing? Yes. Nathan is 'normal' again.
He meets a Czech writer in exile who asks him to help smuggle out manuscripts hidden in Prague.It is 1976 and Breshnev is still in full Stalinist glory. Oppression goes along with a dosis of anti- Semitism.
But lest you anticipate a dour tale of politics, Roth bypasses your worries and finds an outrageous tone of satirical scorn. Scorn of the politics and amusement at the intellectuals with their bohemian antics. His tale of friends spying on each other is the funniest treatment of the subject that I remember.

The LoA volume includes an additional text, a TV script based on the novella. It was written for BBC, but never produced. At the time, Roth was in a relation with a British actress who should have starred in it. Hanna Schygulla was supposed to play the other female role. It might have become a great film, but we will probably never know.

I don't know Philip Roth well yet. I am so far much impressed by his imaginative word-smithing, though the semi- permanent focus on two main subjects might become tiring. The joys of being Jewish in America, and the troubles with sex might not be enough to keep me going for many more volumes. The Prague novella shows a way out of the hermitage.
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on March 17, 2014
Outstanding trilogy from Philip Roth three novels bound into one book a great idea . One that favors the reader with three times the reading pleasure. They will surprise esecially the book about Ann Frank.

The seller sold me a nearly new book for pennies. The book arrived like a premature baby, earlier than anticipated.
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on September 4, 2016
Three novels, as good as anything that's been published in many years, and better than most.
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on October 2, 2015
Roth is addicting.
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on May 6, 2015
Great edition. Great books. Great writer.
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The Library of America has recognized the importance of Philip Roth by publishing his complete novels in a uniform set of nine volumes. This volume includes the three novels and epilogue that Roth himself grouped together and subsequently published as "Zuckerman Bound". The novels tell the story of a novelist, Nathan Zuckerman, at various critical moments of his life. Roth subsequently wrote additional novels with Zuckerman as the protagonist, but these four works stand as a set.

There is a broad, dazzling array of writing in these books. The strong ego of both the author and his character are on full display. Initial impressions are important and these books show at the outset sharp humor, irony, and irreverance. These qualities are combined with an equally important degree of thought and introspection. Sexuality and its difficulties pervade these books, from the restraint imposed upon a young man from family and religious tradition to, perhaps, the different restraint suggested later in time by certain forms of feminism. Throughout the books, Zuckerman struggles with his vocation as a writer and with his Jewishness. He responds in different ways throughout the novels. The books suggest, at length, that a person, a writer particularly must learn to live with ambiguity and conflict. For example, late in the final book of the trilogy, "The Anatomy Lesson", Zuckerman observes.

"Oh, too delicate, too delicate by far for even your own contradictions. The experience of contradiction is the human experience; everybody's balancing that baggage-- how can you knuckle under to that? A novelist without his irreconciliable halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths?"

Nathan Zuckerman bears many resemblances to Roth, but it would be a mistake to conflate character and author. A major these that runs through the books is the relationship between events and characters and their portrayal in an imaginative work of fiction. Roth embroiders on this theme through playing upon the Roth-Zuckerman relationship and through many scenes and details in the books.

The books begin with Zuckerman in young adulthood, and it might be useful to sketch the backround of Zuckerman's life as presented throughout the trilogy. Zuckerman was born in the 1930's and spent his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. His family was culturally and religiously Jewish, although for the most part nonobservant. His mother and father had risen from immigrant poverty to the modest life of the middle class. Zuckerman's father was a foot doctor and his mother a homemaker. Zuckerman had a brother four years his junior. Showing an early precocity and passion for literature, Zuckerman was admitted to the University of Chicago at the age of 16 and graduated with high marks. He served two years in the Army and, upon his discharge, began his literary career in earnest. With this background, the Zuckerman Trilogy begins, and I will briefly describe each book in what follows.

Told in the first person, "The Ghost Writer" features a 23 year old Nathan Zuckerman who has received an invitation from a writer he reveres, Lonoff, to visit at his secluded home in the Berkshires. Lonoff sees in the young man a writer of promise and offers a toast to his future as an author who will thrive on "turbulence". Zuckerman has just endured a stormy break-up with a young woman due to his being flagrantly unfaithful one time too many. Zuckerman is about to publish a short story which has father belives casts his family and the Newark Jewish community in an unflattering light. At first, Zuckerman tries to see Lonoff as a father figure but in the course of the book has reason to be put off by this remote and cold man. Lonoff is rigid and aloof from his wife and may be involved with a mysterious young protege and immigrant Amy Belette. Infatuated with Amy, Zuckerman invents an outrageous story about her to help make peace with his family. The sacredness of the writer's or artist's calling loses much of its luster to Zuckerman in this book, but he dauntlessly proceeds.

"Zukerman Unbound", the second book of the trilogy is told in third person narration and is set in New York City when Zuckerman is in his mid-30s. By this time, Zuckerman has published four novels, and has achieved both wealth and notoriety by the most recent of the four, titled "Carnovsky". This book is a thinly-veiled reference to Roth's own "Portnoy's Complaint" and describes a young adolescent's sexual frustration growing up in Newark and what he perceives as the smothering of his parents. Young Carnovsky becomes an ardent practitioner of masturbation. In the novel, "Carnovsky" attracts many readers by its brutal frankness and humor and repels almost as many. Zuckerman, a solitary and introspective man, must deal with the in many ways unsought for fame. He also must deal in the book with his three failed marriages and with the death of his father. On his deathbed, Zuckerman's aging father curses and disowns what he sees as his reprobate, apostate son. Nathan Zuckerman again must persevere and carry on.

The final book in the trilogy, "The Anatomy Lesson" is set four years after "Zuckerman Unbound" in New York City and Chicago and is also recounted by a third person narrator. This book shows Zuckerman at the end of a four year writer's block following the publication of "Carnovsky" Zuckerman also is plagued by mysterious, debilitating physical ailments. Four young women tend to him at different times and satisfy his carnal and other needs. The book includes long scenes of the death of Zuckerman's mother, which followed his father's death within about a year. The book breaks into two parts. In the first, Zuckerman struggles with his sorrow, his illness, his angers and conflicts and his writer's block. While he seemingly decides to abandon writing and become a physician, Zuckerman, unknown to himself, discovers latent sources of strength. In the second part of the book, set in Chicago, Zuckerman undergoes a severe accident and beating but discovers himself. He reinvents himself by imagining his life as a callous and successful pornographer and so persuades the reader with great gusto. With his conflicts, he is still able to move ahead.

The epilogue to the trilogy, "The Prague Orgy" is in the nature of a coda. Some critics see this epilogue as the highlight of the entire work, but I think it more of a short teasing anticlimax. The epilogue is recounted from what purport to be Zuckerman's notebooks. It is told in the first person and is set in New York and in Prague in 1976, with Soviet control of the city. Zuckerman travels to Prague in search of what he has been told are stories in Yiddish by a writer killed by the Nazis. Among many sexual scenes and portrayals of communist repression, Zuckerman thinks again about the nature of the writer's calling. The story is tinged with irony as at its climax the cultural commissar lectures Zuckerman about the responsibility of the creative artist to develop and articulate the values expressed by a culture rather than engaging in an effort to mock and undermine these values. The double irony is that this function may be a proper and neglected role of the writer and intellectual in the contemporary United States while it is a source of repression and hypocrisy in the communist world of Prague. The Zuckerman trilogy takes a different turn in its brief epilogue.

Roth is a storyteller. His "Zuckerman" novels are richly detailed, full of bluster, ranting, and thought. They are infuriating, thought provoking and funny. Many readers, not only Roth, may identify with at least some of Zuckerman, his issues, and his ways of working towards resolution. The Zuckerman Trilogy deserves its place in the Library of America as a work describing and elucidating important parts of the American experience.

Robin Friedman
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on October 17, 2009
With the publication of his wildly successful and outrageously funny Portnoy's Complaint in 1969, Philip Roth formally entered the ranks of America's up and coming must-read literary stars. But it also opened a Pandora's box of issues having to do with the fact that Portnoy was depicted as explicitly Jewish, sexually obsessed, and that Roth's portrayal of Portnoy's Jewish family was much less than flattering.

America in 1969 remember, was culturally only a few years removed from Jewish quotas for medical and law school acceptances, and restricted country clubs, hotels and real estate. Years later Jon Stuart (who was 7 years old in 1969) would joke in a stage whispered "Is it good for the Jews?" but in 1969 this question was asked more seriously by American Jews still not entirely trusting of or comfortable living in a country that had refused admittance to thousands of would-be Jewish émigrés from Germany in the 40s.

Sixteen years later we have Zuckerman Bound, comprised of the three novels originally published separately: The Ghost Writer (1979), Zuckerman Unbound (1981), and The Anatomy Lesson (1983), and the novella The Prague Orgy (1969), in which Roth brilliantly addresses these issues of personal and artistic identity head-on. Nathan Zuckerman, the protagonist throughout all four books is clearly Roth's alter ego, and Zuckerman's published book, Carnovsky, (Roth's Portnoy's Complaint) succeeds commercially and foments conflict between Zuckerman and his father, brother and a raft of father surrogates.

Is Roth's hilarious but incisive depiction of these Jewish characters a matter of artistic integrity or cultural betrayal? He could have left the question unanswered after writing Portnoy. He could have moved on to the next book and left it well enough alone. Instead, over the course of at least these four books, he explores the issue directly and he does so in what I think is a most powerful way, by going to the meta-level: the story about the story about the story.... In this case Roth's surrogate, Zuckerman is himself facing these very dilemma(s).

The issues of cultural/artistic identity are developed progressively through the four books with the father-son conflict theme introduced in the first novel where Zuckerman's father pleas with him not to publish a short story exposing the family's scandalous conflict between the family's black sheep nephew and his aunt over an inheritance.

In the second book, the theme is extended to include Zuckerman's brother's accusation that the publication of Carnofsky caused their father's death with its insulting portrayal of Carnovsky's mother.

In The Anatomy Lesson, Zuckerman's struggle is with his two father surrogates, Appel, the Jewish literary critic and self-appointed defender of the Jewish people against the infidel Zuckerman, and later, Mr. Freytag, his college roommate's father.

Finally, in The Prague Orgy, as these themes are air-lifted into the state controlled communist regime of 1976 Czechoslovakia, the intriguing notion is introduced of the writer as spy on his own life and that of others in his life. Talk about the "meta level." Here we have the ultimate self- referential burlesque of Kafka. Particularly emblematic here is the hilariously macabre vignette of the Czech writer who agreed to spy on himself and to write reports for the state on his own life for his police informant friend because the friend was not a good writer:

"I said, `Blecha, I will follow myself for you. I know what I do all day better than you, and I have nothing else to keep me busy. I will spy on myself and I will write it up, and you can submit it to them as your own. They will wonder how your rotten writing has improved overnight, but you just tell them you were sick. This way you won't have anything damaging on your record, and I can be rid of your company, you (expletive deleted).' Blecha was thrilled. He gave me half of what they paid him...."

In this fourth book, the whole matter of the rebellion from authority - the struggle between fathers and sons begun in the Ghost Writer and developed more in Zuckerman Unbound - (did he kill his own father?) takes on a whole new level when it is the state assuming the authority role through its censorship of literary work.

All of the above does not begin to do justice to Roth's first-rate authenticity in writing dialogue and creating characters, and most of all, the sheer hilarity with which he explores issues that go deeply into what it means to be human.
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on January 17, 2008
I have not read this yet so am only commenting that the whole delivery porocess worked just fine
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on October 11, 2017
Classics, all of them.
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on December 26, 2007
Zuckerman is Roth's equivalent to that other 20th Century fictional alter-ego, Updike's Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom. But while Updike's character is an American everyman, his average desires, inclinations, career and relationships drawn with the fine pen, the two inches of ivory of Updike's conventional East Coast suburbs; Roth's Zuckerman swings wildly through the American beserk on a roiling stream of consciousness that takes him from noble, high purpose striving writer in his early twenties, visiting his hero E.I. Lonoff, to wrecked, neurotic acclaimed (and reviled) man of letters in his forties.

Roth's Zuckerman books are perhaps his string of writing where the gap between the banks of life and art are at their narrowest. Zuckerman finds fame with his novel of Jewish sexual guilt (Carnovsky) and has to cope out with the fall out of that success - accosted on the bus, in the street, outside his appartment, by cranks, the media, people accusing him of being an anti Semitic Jew, his family accusing him of betraying their secrets.

Zuckerman's great contradiction - yearning for liberty, but recognising the innate drive towards inhibition and security leads to a fastinating portrayal of themes towards the middle and end of the trilogy plus coda. By middle age Zuckerman, wracked with pain, drugs and an emotional life more messy than Woody Allen's (a nice counterpoint, there, considering Allen's 1998 Roth-lite film 'Deconstructing Harry') decides his pursuit of literary greatness has lead to his unravelling and decides to train as a doctor. A ludicrous and comic plan that leads to an encounter with a pornographer, and a journey to the heart of darkness of the health system.

The coda, 'The Prague Orgy', is a fitting finale. Shorter than the others, a novella of some eighty pages, the scene changes to Communist Prague as Zuckerman travels there in a futile attempt to claim the manuscript of some Yiddish short stories for a Czech friend of his in New York. There he meets Olga, a trashy vamp of a woman, wife of the deceased artist, whose desperate plight forces Zuckerman to review his own precarious and turbulent liberty. He also gets a lecture from the Czech authorities who take a very different view of the value of culture and freedom to Zuckerman.

Overall, a fascinating portrait of a late 20th Century American literary celebrity. But what an ego! Roth, like Updike, thinks the importance of his own life is of such supreme magnitude that the whole world should take notice and listen. Roth is not Zuckerman, of course, but when he says things such as 'When there are banners across Manhattan calling for the return of Portnoy, I might act', you realise that he shares with his fictional creation a concern to write his own will on world. The great American novelists of this period -Bellow (gone), Roth and Updike (going, slowly) are all in this mould. There is a world outside their own neurosis, their own back problems, their own concerns with mortality. This world is glimpsed at in 'The Prague Orgy'. Roth also grasped this nettle during his late period flowering - The Human Stain, American Pastoral etc.. Were that he had discovered this external world earlier on in the Zuckerman trilogy.
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