Nemesis

Nemesis

by Philip Roth

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Nemesis 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
I hate being the one to write the first review. I dread that others will come along later and point out how I didn't get the book at all, or I missed the important stuff. And a Phillip Roth novel- no reviews yet? Roth's new novel, Nemesis, is about a polio epidemic in 1944. The war is going on when suddenly young people throughout Newark are hit by polio. Roth befuddles me often as his books are either very appealing or a big turnoff to me. But Nemesis is magnificent. It brings the epidemic home, engages the reader as it both educates and infuriates, and the real Nemesis proves to be God, not polio. No, I didn't give anything away there as it is only my interpretation. But you will find yourself having many conversations with yourself when you put this short novel down.
radioguy More than 1 year ago
Mr. Ross is always worthwhile, but I feel this is one of his lesser achievements. I never really felt it went any where. It rather droned on and was lacking the thematic and narrative flare of his other works. Rather flat all around. A title in his minor catalog.
Sandito-Gordito More than 1 year ago
It appears to me that Mr Roth, in his old age of 78, has gotten into a position of putting out publications which are trashy in order to reap in great profits by depending on his past great works. This tale of about 130 pages devotes the first 100 pages to a somewhat interesting story which he drops like a hot potato. After the story somewhat ends at page 100, Roth uses the next 30 pages to sort of explain what and why the first 100 occured. It's as if Roth wrote the first hundred pages and decided that he had given enough of himself and then tried to close out in the next senseless 30 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Strong interaction between physical and mental health. Physical compromises weigh heavily on personal pride which strongly affects relationships. The author demonstrates this throughout the book.
spounds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These days we seem to be infected with a heavy dose of libertarianism. I'm OK; you're OK; now get off my lawn.But what if the opposite were true? What if you were someone who felt an inordinate amount of responsibility for others--and what if they started to die?Bucky Cantor is a playground director in Newark when the 1943 polio epidemic breaks out. He feels a strong responsibility for keeping his charges both safe from the hazards of the disease, but also from unneeded hysteria. When polio arrives in his neighborhood, Bucky seeks out advice on the right thing to do--and he does it. And then one day he makes a decision that will haunt him the rest of his life.The conclusion of Nemesis takes place 30 years after the first part of the story as Bucky retells how he has dealt with his decision and its consequences.Roth spends this last bit pondering the idea of responsibility and the guilt that it can bring when the circumstance is more than someone can handle. At what point can I stop being my brother's keeper and just keep myself? Or is there such a point?
rmckeown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Back in the 60s, Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth¿s first novel, had everybody buzzing. I read it, but did not like it at all. The ¿rule of 50¿ lay years in my future, so I struggled to the end. This turned me off Roth until I read Everyman several years ago. Then, I read a few of his recent novels, and tried Goodbye again. This time, the rule of 50 played an important role ¿ I still did not like that novel. Without any trepidation, however, I dove into Nemesis published a short time ago. Am I glad I did! Now, Roth is my front runner for the Nobel Prize for Literature because of the way he chronicles life in America in the last half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries. This novel is unlike anything I have read by Roth. Nothing put pure, young, innocent love set during a tragic episode in American history.Bucky Cantor¿s mother died in childbirth, and his father ended up in prison. Raised by his grandparents, they taught him self-reliance, the value of hard work, and he became quite an athlete. When Pearl Harbor suffered an attack, he tried to enlist with his friends, but poor eyesight earned him a classification of 4-F. These misfortunes haunted him for most of his life. Upon graduation from the ironically named ¿Panzer College,¿ he landed a job at a local elementary school as a physical education teacher. There he met Marcia, a new first grade teacher. The two instantly fell in love, but Cantor¿s depression over his misfortunes shadowed him throughout his life. When a polio epidemic hits Newark in the summer of 1944, Bucky searches for an explanation in a world controlled by God. He spends much of the rest of his life wondering why God lets bad things happen to innocent children.Roth has penned an absorbing and tightly drawn story of not only a man, but of a community and a tragedy of terrible proportions. In A Distant Mirror, the late historian, Barbara Tuchman, draws parallels between the 14th and 20th centuries. The bubonic plague which swept through Europe six centuries ago killed tens of millions of people. Superstition, and lack of basic understanding of infections and how they spread through a population, fueled panic, anti-Semitism, and incidents of violence against communities viewed as likely scapegoats. Roth demonstrates Tuchman¿s thesis had more parallels than she mentioned, since her book mainly focused on the flu epidemic of 1918, in which tens of millions died world-wide. This pattern was repeated with the polio epidemic of the 40s and again with the A.I.D.S. epidemic which began in the 80s. Fortunately, modern science took the reins with explanations and treatments for both 20th century plagues. History does repeat itself.Nemesis is the fourth in a series of short novels grouped under the heading Nemeses. If you haven¿t read Roth in a while, start with this slim volume and work your way back to something near the beginning. Then try Goodbye, Columbus again. I believe the careful reader will discover a clear distinction between the early Roth and the master novelist of today. (5 Stars)--Jim, 11/5/10
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my earliest memories is of watching the few toys I owned being destroyed in a barnyard fire set especially for that purpose. From what I have been told, the toys were burned in hope that I would not fall victim to polio, as had the little boy who had played with those toys and me only a few days earlier. My parents, I am sure, were terrified, and they felt that they had to do something. It was only a year or so later that I understood the whole story, but the experience is something that still crosses my mind every year or so.Philip Roth¿s latest novel, Nemesis, revisits those terrible days during which the general public had no idea how polio was spread and had to watch helplessly as countless children and young people were stricken. Set in a Jewish, Newark neighborhood in 1944, the book captures the feeling of panic and overwhelming despair that accompanied the regular arrival of that dreaded killer-disease. Bucky Cantor, who was quite the high school athlete, is disappointed to find himself one of the very few able-bodied young men still walking the streets of his neighborhood. Even now, at the peak of World War II, Bucky¿s eyesight is so bad that no branch of the United States military will accept him. As a way of serving his community, Bucky has taken on the responsibility of running the park where the neighborhood youngsters spend their summer days playing baseball or enduring rope-jumping marathons.All goes well until one of those children is stricken by polio. That case is just the first of many and, before long, panic and finger pointing will begin. Bucky Cantor, a young man with high expectations of himself, will find himself torn between staying with the young teens who so much admire him or joining his girlfriend in employment at a prestigious children¿s camp in the Poconos. His decision will change lives in a way he never imagined.A chief strength of Nemesis is the vividness with which Roth recreates the impact of polio on the psyche of the country before Dr. Jonas Salk¿s vaccine began to eradicate the disease in 1955. The book is, however, also an excellent character study of a young man who could never live up to his own expectations of personal behavior. Bucky Cantor¿s high ideals, combined with the personal guilt he feels when he fails to match those ideals, make for a highly destructive combination of beliefs. Personal failure, always likely when the bar is set so high, would mean that, soon enough, Bucky would no longer have ¿a conscious he could live with.¿The inherent tragedy of Nemesis and a young man like Bucky Cantor is best summed up by another of the book¿s characters who said about Bucky: ¿The guilt in someone like Bucky may seem absurd but, in fact, is unavoidable. Such a person is condemned. Nothing he does matches the ideal in him. He never knows where his responsibility ends. He never trusts his limits because, saddled with a natural goodness that will not permit him to resign himself to the suffering of others, he will never guiltlessly acknowledge that he has any limits.¿Bucky Cantor could not protect the park children from polio; even worse, he could not protect himself from failing to reach his own personal ideals.Rated at: 4.0
JaneSteen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Where I got the book: my own choice from the library.I've only read one other book by Philip Roth, The Human Stain. And I wasn't crazy about it, although I thought the writing was superior. (And I guess a few other people thought so too, since it won a PEN/Faulkner Award.)I liked Nemesis a whole lot more, even though I thought the novel was structurally flawed. Or is that genius, to build flaws deliberately into a novel and then get away with it? It's a fine line.[SPOILER ALERT] Nemesis is set in Newark in the hot summer of 1944, specifically in the Jewish community in Weequahic. It begins in an expository style, explaining the origins of the polio epidemic of that year, before introducing the main character, Bucky Cantor. This young man, a superb athlete but barred from war service by poor eyesight, works as a playground supervisor and has a passion for helping children grow as athletes. He is a model citizen: brought up by his grandparents, he grew up working in their business and did well at school. He is small, tough, and respected, and his relationship with a doctor's daughter promises a rise in society.But the polio epidemic hits Weequahic hard, and the playground is particularly badly affected. Children sicken and even die, and Bucky Cantor's faith in God is shaken as he tries to comfort the families and puzzle out why "his" children should be the victims of such a virulent strain. When he finally gives in to the temptation to leave it all behind and join his girlfriend at a camp in the mountains, Bucky's nemesis follows him and destroys his life.This is a great story told mostly in a tight narrative style interspersed with dialogue. I loved the affectionate descriptions of the community and its people, and really got a sense of the suffering of the families. The writing is excellent: tight and compelling, it sketches scenes with great economy of detail but considerable power, and the dialogues and action are completely convincing.Where the book fell down, for me, was the odd shock of discovering, about halfway into the book, that the narrator is not the anonymous "omniscient" so useful to novelists, but one of the polio victims; he tells Bucky's story (so that we see Bucky mostly as "Mr. Cantor") but really tells us almost nothing about his own part in it. The idea that he would have become friends with Bucky later in life and is now narrating what he has learned from him just doesn't strike true. I would have been OK with an omniscient narrator, but I find a second-hand narrative through a very minor character rather jarring.The second thing I did not like was precisely the account of Bucky later in life, when he has turned his back on his former love and all that connected him with the playground. The embittered invalid is a familiar enough trope, but the way this section of the novel is sandwiched between the actual story and a final description of Bucky in his glory days (which strikes me as an attempt to balance out the present-day section) doesn't work for me. Bucky's anger against God is explored in this section, but I think it could have been worked more satisfactorily into the main narrative given Roth's great ability with the pen.But I could be wrong. Maybe the flaws are deliberate attempts to break the rhythm of the narrative and shock the reader out of complacency. If they are, then I respect them. My overall impression is still of a powerful piece of writing that is well worth reading.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Roth ranks near the top of my favorite authors roster. His minimalist writing style, paired his ability to vividly capture eras in American history, rarely leave me disappointed.I really liked "Nemesis." It certainly won't be remembered as one of Roth's classics. But it skillfully explores the themes of fear and personal resonsibility against an intriguing backdrop -- the polio epidemic in the 1940s. However, I must agree with LT reviewer JaneSteen's critique of the novel's structure. I won't delve in detail here; I don't fancy writing "spoiler alerts." But the tome's structure was a bit disjointed. I also found that Roth's minimalist style worked against him in this thin volume. I wanted to know more about the roots of the protaganist's sad choices that changed his life. Having said all this, "Nemesis" is well worth reading.
nbsp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Philip Roth. He shows us the world through his narrow focus on Newark, N.J. In this short novel, the polio epidemic stalks the populace. Reactions vary from courage to anger, logic to insanity.Bucky Cantor is a likeable promising young Phys Ed teacher who runs a city playground. The story heats up as Bucky deals with the prejudices that arise as God's Chosen People appear to be spared.My mother spent a few scary nights with me as a child in the hospital with a suspected case of polio that turned out to be measles. And, my child was born in the early days of AIDS and I wrestled with the unknown dangers of that. So I had a special interest in Nemesis but I think it has general appeal given the fear of disease that we endure at least annually during flu season. And, even having lived through the polio crisis, I could never have predicted the story line.Audiobook reader Dennis Boutsikaris is stellar as always.
kidzdoc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Bucky" Cantor is a young physical education teacher who is spending his summer as a playground director in the largely Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic in Newark, New Jersey. It is the summer of 1944, one that would be remembered for its brutal heat and its devastating outbreak of paralytic polio, the worst outbreak to strike the city since 1916. Bucky is distressed that he cannot join his two best friends in the war effort, as his poor eyesight makes him ineligible for the draft. He is a serious and dedicated teacher and mentor to the boys in the playground, who love and respect him unconditionally, as do their parents. Bucky is deeply in love is Marcia Steinberg, the strikingly beautiful daughter of a beloved community physician, who teaches in the same school where he works. She is spending the summer as a counselor in a camp in the Poconos, and she begs him to join her there.Weequahic is seemingly protected from polio, which has begun to make inroads in the surrounding neighborhoods, until two of the playground boys suddenly succumb to the illness. As the epidemic flares with a vengeance, the members of the community panic and point fingers at the city's leadership, the parents of the stricken children, and anyone suspected of bringing the infection into the neighborhood. Bucky is deeply shaken, and questions his own role in the outbreak, and how a merciful God could allow such a pestilence to strike against innocent children.A position for a swimming instructor becomes available at the camp where Marcia is working, and Bucky leaves the disease plagued city to be with Marcia. There it is cool and idyllic, and polio is a distant memory. Bucky, however, is conflicted by his decision to leave the boys and his community, who he feels need him more than ever, but he is also free of the fear that he or the children in the camp will be the next polio victim and is alongside the woman he intends to marry.In Nemesis, Roth does a fine job of portraying the fear and paranoia that resulted from that awful summer of 1944, and the devastating effect of paralytic polio on its survivors and on the families of those who died from the illness. However, the main characters are one dimensional and thinly portrayed, which greatly dilutes the effect of the story. Roth's main theme in the book, the struggle of one man's responsibility toward his community and country and its conflict with personal happiness and fulfillment, is not handled as well as it could have been, and it seemed to this reader that the first 3/4 of the book served as a set up for a discussion of this theme, making for a somewhat disjointed and unsatisfying read. Nemesis is a good book, but it could have been a great one.
tymfos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1944, there was no vaccine or cure for polio (though treatments existed which helped, to some degree, many who contracted the disease). Indeed, though it was known to be highly contagious, the mechanism of polio's spread was not yet understood. As a result, all manner of theories abounded regarding the risks, leading to a general state of paranoia during outbreaks of the disease. Who/what was to blame for its spread? Flies? The hot dog vendor? A mentally-challenged neighbor? Contaminated library books?This story explores the grim reality of urban life in a polio outbreak. However, it is even more the story of a man's grim battle with his own thoughts -- his fear, his conscience, his doubts, his guilt, and his anger at God -- in the face of a disease he cannot control and a World War in which he was deemed too nearsighted to serve.Bucky Cantor is the neighborhood playground director, and he watches helplessly as his young charges begin to sicken and die of polio. The reality of the situation eats away at him as he ponders the opportunity to escape the inner city for work as a camp counselor in the Pocono Mountains, where his girlfriend Marcia works. What is his duty to his young charges at the playground? Is his playground a killing field of contagion, or an oasis from even more dangerous situations?I listened to the audio version of this book (a Brilliance Audio production) and found some parts compelling, some parts a bit tedious, and some parts mildly curious (such as the description of summer camp life in the 1940's). Then there were the moments that left me with an "oh, no!" on my lips and a sinking feeling in my stomach as I anticipated what manner of disaster loomed ahead. In the end the biggest tragedy is, perhaps, less a matter of germs and twisted limbs, and more a matter of psychology and twisted thoughts -- because sometimes our mental state can stunt our lives more than any physical ailment.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this historically imagined tale of a polio outbreak in Newark, New Jersey was outstanding. Polio and its insidious spread is the metaphor for things which make us fear and from which it is difficult to protect oneself. Roth's insight into the workings of the human mind and heart are brilliant. The ultimate questions are what kind of God would create such a disease, what kind of God would allow small children to suffer, die, or move into adulthood permanently maimed? Yet.......there is the beauty of the protahonist's javelin throw......go figure! Great read!
djfifitrix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was well written and a touching, but devastating story about the reaction of a young man, Bucky, to a sweeping polio epidemic that befalls many of his young charges at the playground he is caretaker for. Bucky's character and his repsonses to the epidemic are explored throughout the book, as he experiences and reacts to the mounting pressure and anxiety of such an epidemic, which becomes the focus of life in Newark towards the end of the Second World War. I found this book easy to read and Roth tells a wonderful story of human anxiety and fear, which tends to be a theme running through many of his works.
KatherineGregg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Philip Roth but this was not my favorite. I listened to an interview of Roth on NPR recently and was looking forward to reading Nemesis. Roth is skillful in that he is able to convey so much in a few words. The construction of Nemesis was interesting with a narrator unknown until the end. The protagonist in Nemesis was like-able and it was disturbing to see the way his guilt (in not being fit to serve in war and in being a polio carrier) isolated him from people who cared about him for the rest of his life. It was very sad.
SyossetReaders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great fictional read about the 1950's polio epidemic and the effect it has on a small community in Newark, New Jersey. Particularly affected is the boy's gym teacher/summer playground supervisor, who makes a choice he later regrets.
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