American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1)

by Philip Roth

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | February 3, 1998 | Trade Paperback

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As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager-a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 3.15 × 2.04 × 0.34 in

Published: February 3, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375701427

ISBN - 13: 9780375701429

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– More About This Product –

American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1)

by Philip Roth

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 3.15 × 2.04 × 0.34 in

Published: February 3, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375701427

ISBN - 13: 9780375701429

Read from the Book

1 The Swede. During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city''s old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete. The name was magical; so was the anomalous face. Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov. The Swede starred as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball. Only the basketball team was ever any good-twice winning the city championship while he was its leading scorer-but as long as the Swede excelled, the fate of our sports teams didn''t matter much to a student body whose elders, largely undereducated and overburdened, venerated academic achievement above all else. Physical aggression, even camouflaged by athletic uniforms and official rules and intended to do no harm to Jews, was not a traditional source of pleasure in our community-advanced degrees were. Nonetheless, through the Swede, the neighborhood entered into a fantasy about itself and about the world, the fantasy of sports fans everywhere: almost like Gentiles (as they imagined Gentiles), our families could forget the way things actually work and make an athletic performance the repository of a
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From the Publisher

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager-a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

From the Jacket

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.
For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager--a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

About the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians' Prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004." Recently Roth received PEN's two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.


From Our Editors

An ordinary man finds that his life has been made extraordinary by the catastrophic intrusion of history, when, in 1968, his adored daughter plants a bomb that kills a stranger, hurling her father out of the longed-for American pastoral and into the ingenious American berserk. "Never before has Roth written with clear conviction".--"Time".

Editorial Reviews

"One of Roth''s most powerful novels ever...moving, generous and ambitious...a fiercely affecting work of art." -Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Dazzling...a wrenching, compassionate, intelligent novel...gorgeous." -Boston Globe

"At once expansive and painstakingly detailed.... The pages of American Pastoral crackle with the electricity and zest of a first-rate mind at work." -San Francisco Chronicle

Bookclub Guide

US

1. What is the effect of being told the story through Zuckerman? Are we led to believe aspects of the story are a projection of Zuckerman''s fantasies about a character who caught his imagination?

2. Zuckerman sees the Swede''s life as an illustration of the Jewish "desire to go the limit in America with your rights, forming yourself as an ideal person who gets rid of the traditional Jewish habits and attitudes, who frees himself of the pre-America insecurities and the old, constraining obsessions so as to live unapologetically as an equal among equals" [p. 85]. How does Roth illustrate this thought? The Swede tries very hard to form himself as this ideal person. Does the story imply that such a life, such a reinvention of the self, is ultimately impossible?

3. There could hardly be two more different personality types than the Swede and his brother, Jerry. What do Jerry''s positive traits tell us about the Swede''s negative ones? Why have the two of them chosen such different paths?

4. Does Lou Levov appear to be a benign or a negative influence on his sons'' lives? How, if at all, has he contributed in making the Swede what he is?

5. The passionate kiss that the Swede gave Merry when she was eleven was a once-in-a-lifetime transgression. "Never in his entire life, not as a son, a husband, a father, even as an employer, had he given way to anything so alien to the emotional rules by which he was governed" [p. 91]. Later the Swede fears that this moment precipitated the infinite anger of her teenage years. Is this conclusion erroneous? What does it reveal?

6. The Swede believes that the political radicalism professed by Merry and Rita Cohen is nothing but "angry, infantile egoism thinly disguised as identification with the oppressed" [p. 134]. Is the answer as simple as that? How genuine is Merry''s identification with the oppressed? Are her political arguments convincing?

7. What effect did the experience of watching, as a child, the self-immolation of the Buddhist monks have upon Merry? Does her reaction seem unusual to you? Did it affect what happened to her later?

8. What effect do all the details about the glove trade have upon the narrative? How do they illuminate the story?

9. Do you believe Merry when she says that she doesn''t know Rita Cohen? If she is telling the truth, who might Rita Cohen be? What is her function within the story?

10. The Swede planned his life to be picture perfect, and he lived that life until it turned dark and violent. Was his life the essential American Dream, or was it a nightmare rather than a pastoral? What comment does the novel''s title make upon the story it tells?

11. What are Merry''s feelings for America? What are her feelings for her parents? How are the two connected?

12. Merry''s stuttering began to disappear when she worked with dynamite. What emotional purpose did Merry''s stuttering serve, and why was she able to leave the handicap behind her when she left home?

13. When the Swede calls Jerry to ask for his advice, he is treated to a diatribe. "What''s the matter with you?" Jerry asks. "You''re acceding to her the way you acceded to your father, the way you have acceded to everything in your life" [p. 273]. Is Jerry right? Should the Swede force Merry to come home? Why does the Swede refuse Jerry''s offer to come get Merry himself?

14. Why does Merry, when she becomes a Jain, choose to settle in the neighborhood of her father''s factory in Newark?

15. Does Dawn, in reinventing herself after Merry''s disappearance, seem ruthless to you, or do you sympathize with her struggle for personal survival? When she tells Bill Orcutt that she always hated the Old Rimrock house, is she telling the truth? And is she telling the truth when she claims she is glad that she didn''t become Miss America?

16. Describing his brother, Jerry says, "In one way he could be conceived as completely banal and conventional. An absence of negative values and nothing more. Bred to be dumb, built for convention, and so on" [p. 65]. Is this how you see Swede Levov by the end of the novel? Does he depart from banality and convention?

17. "His great looks, his larger-than-lifeness, his glory, our sense of his having been exempted from all self-doubt by his heroic role--that all these manly properties had precipitated a political murder made me think of the compelling story...of Kennedy" [p. 83]. In what ways do American Pastoral''s political metaphors reflect the story of mid-century America? Why might they be presented through a Kennedy-like figure?

18. The Swede" had learned the worst lesson that life can teach--that it makes no sense." What leads him to this conclusion? Did his life in fact make no sense?

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