I Married a Communist

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I Married a Communist

by Philip Roth

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | November 15, 1999 | Trade Paperback

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I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.

In his heyday as a star-and as a zealous, bullying supporter of "progressive" political causes-Ira marries Hollywood''s beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve''s scandalous bestselling exposé that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow."

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira''s turbulent personal life, Philip Roth-who Commonweal calls the "master chronicler of the American twentieth century-has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 pages, 8 × 5.14 × 0.68 in

Published: November 15, 1999

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375707212

ISBN - 13: 9780375707216

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– More About This Product –

I Married a Communist

by Philip Roth

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 pages, 8 × 5.14 × 0.68 in

Published: November 15, 1999

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375707212

ISBN - 13: 9780375707216

Read from the Book

1 Ira Ringold''s older brother, Murray, was my first high school English teacher, and it was through him that I hooked up with Ira. In 1946 Murray was just back from the army, where he''d served with the 17th Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge; in March 1945, he''d made the famous jump across the Rhine that signaled the beginning of the end of the European war. He was, in those days, a crusty, brash, baldheaded guy, not as tall as Ira but rangy and athletic, who hovered over our heads in a perpetual state of awareness. He was altogether natural in his manner and posture while in his speech verbally copious and intellectually almost menacing. His passion was to explain, to clarify, to make us understand, with the result that every last subject we talked about he broke down into its principal elements no less meticulously than he diagrammed sentences on the blackboard. His special talent was for dramatizing inquiry, for casting a strong narrative spell even when he was being strictly analytic and scrutinizing aloud, in his clearcut way, what we read and wrote. Along with the brawn and the conspicuous braininess, Mr. Ringold brought with him into the classroom a charge of visceral spontaneity that was a revelation to tamed, respectablized kids who were yet to comprehend that obeying a teacher''s rules of decorum had nothing to do with mental development. There was more importance than perhaps even he imagined in his winning predilection for heaving a blackboard eraser
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From the Publisher

I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.

In his heyday as a star-and as a zealous, bullying supporter of "progressive" political causes-Ira marries Hollywood''s beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve''s scandalous bestselling exposé that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow."

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira''s turbulent personal life, Philip Roth-who Commonweal calls the "master chronicler of the American twentieth century-has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.

From the Jacket

I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.
In his heyday as a star--and as a zealous, bullying supporter of "progressive" political causes--Ira marries Hollywood''s beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve''s scandalous bestselling expose that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow."
In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira''s turbulent personal life, Philip Roth--who "Commonweal calls the "master chronicler of the American twentieth century--has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.

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

Yet another classic of American literature by Phil Roth. The Cold War resulted in an unparalleled Communist scare when Senator Joseph McCarthy took full advantage of this hysteria with the legendary witch hunts of the 1950s. I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, an American roughneck who went from being a ditch-digger to becoming a big-time radio star.

Editorial Reviews

"A bitter, often funny, always engrossing story that wonderfully evokes a time and place in our common past.... The idealisms and hypocrisies of the postwar period [are] brilliantly resurrected." —Robert Stone, The New York Review of Books "A remarkable work—remarkable in its stringent observation of American life...remarkable in its wisdom. Mr. Roth has the frantic politics of this frantic time—the McCarthy era—in exact pitch." —Arthur Schlesinger, The New York Observer "As social history it bbreathes life. In Ira Ringold, Roth has created one of his singularly ripe, vigorous characters. Ira''s dizzying rise and fall out of and back into the working class trace the trajectory of twenty years of American history." —Todd Gitlin, Chicago Tribune "Philip Roth is an amazing writer.... I Married a Communist may very well become his classic work; perhaps a classic for all time."-- The Plain Dealer "Gripping.... A masterly, often unnerving, blend of tenderness, harshness, insight and wit."-- The New York Times Book Review " I Married a Communist is filled with passages as fine and sharp as anything Roth has ever written (which is to say, as fine and sharp as anything in contemporary American literature)."-- The Village Voice Literary Supplement " I Married a Communist leaves you--both dumbfounded and in awe."-- Chicago Sun-Times "[S]eals [Roth''s] reputation as a writer at
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Bookclub Guide

I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.

In his heyday as a star-and as a zealous, bullying supporter of "progressive" political causes-Ira marries Hollywood''s beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve''s scandalous bestselling exposé that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow."

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira''s turbulent personal life, Philip Roth-who Commonweal calls the "master chronicler of the American twentieth century-has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.

1. As Nathan''s high school English teacher, Murray Ringold tells him that "In human society, thinking''s the greatest transgression of all" [p. 2]. Do the events of his life, and his brother''s, bear out this opinion?

2. Murray describes Ira''s private life as "a grave misfortune replete with farce" [p. 3]. Would this describe his public life as well? Which aspects of his public life were tragic, which merely farcical? How are Ira''s private and public lives inextricably linked? What about Eve''s? How does Roth link private betrayal with the public variety?

3. Ira becomes famous by impersonating Abraham Lincoln; he dies, eventually, from the same rare disease Lincoln suffered from. Why does Roth stress similarities and parallels between Ira and Lincoln? What things does he imply about Ira by making the comparison? Does Ira have any justification in likening himself to American revolutionaries like Lincoln, Paine and Jefferson?

4. The young Nathan, enthusiastic about the Progressive Party, sees his father as someone who has made fatal compromises, and Ira as uncompromising. What compromises has Ira, in fact, made? Does the author imply that compromise is inevitable, even good and necessary? If so, do you agree with him?

5. Nathan is attracted by Ira''s early orphaning, by his social and familial unrootedness, largely because he himself is so very rooted in his own family and culture. What effect does a father, or the lack of a father, have on a young man''s life? What purpose do surrogate fathers serve? Is Nathan correct to define manhood as "the orphanhood that is total" [p. 217]?

6. "As a Communist," says Murray, "[Ira] should be irritated by her from the first second. So what explains this marriage with her and not with a comrade?" [p. 82]. What does explain it? Does the fact that Ira sees Eve as a "challenge" [p. 83] provide reason enough, or is the situation more complex than that?

7. Is Sylphid presented as a villain, or as someone to be pitied? How much sympathy do you have for her? How much sympathy do Nathan and Murray have for her? Who is most to blame in the self-destructive mother-daughter relationship, Eve or Sylphid, and how has Eve contributed to making Sylphid what she is? In what ways are mother and daughter similar?

8. Ira presents himself as a searingly honest man, and seems actually to believe that this is so. Yet he consistently lies about the two vital facts of his life: that he is a Communist, and that he is a murderer. Does your knowledge of these lies imply, to you, that he is dishonest about other things? That he is in fact dishonest by nature?

9. Several characters give blistering summaries of Ira as they perceive him. Katrina van Tassel calls him "an ignorant man, and a naive man, and a rude man, a bullying, simple-minded, arrogant man" [p. 149]; his former friend Goldstine says "Mankind at its stupidest doesn''t come any stupider. I''ve always been scared of you. You''re a wild man" [p. 97]; Johnny O''Day says "He wasn''t a revolutionary, he wasn''t a Lincoln, he wasn''t anything. He wasn''t a man" [p. 288]. Are these characterizations correct? Or are they too ruthless in their assessments? What valuable qualities does Ira possess, if any? Is he in fact, as Murray believes, "by and large," "virtuous" [p. 181]?

10. How did Ira''s childhood experiences turn him toward violence and murder? How, afterward, did his murder of Strollo shape the rest of his life? Murray says that Ira''s "whole life had been looking for a way not to kill somebody" [p. 292]. Into what other arenas does Ira deflect his violent impulses? At what times is his violent nature most in evidence?

11. Do you agree with Nathan that both Ira and Murray are "historical casualties" [p. 318]? What does he mean by that term? How might their lives have unfolded if they had lived in more peaceful times?

12. "I believe I have made the least harmful choice," Nathan says about his chosen way of life [p. 71]. Harmful to what, and to whom? Are there any clues in I Married a Communist, or in Roth''s other novels, to indicate why Nathan lives in such a monastic fashion?

13. Iron RinnIra Ringold was the teenaged Nathan''s hero. What does this imply about our youthful ideas of heroes? Who, if anyone, might be the real hero of this story? Of the historical era?

14. If you have read American Pastoral, the novel that preceded I Married a Communist, how would you compare the two "heroes," Swede Levov and Ira Ringold? Are the two men similar, and if so, in what ways? How innocent is each of them, and how guilty? To what degree are both utopianists, and how realistic are their utopias?

15. What does I Married a Communist tell us about ourselves as Americans: about specifically American mores, values, fantasies, and character? In what ways were HUAC and the MacCarthy crisis characteristically American phenomena, possible only in this country?

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