Book Review: The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Book club met last week–only five of us.

Summary: college classics professor in small New England
college has a secret.  We don’t know about it until well into the
book, but I’m giving you a SPOILER alert here, so stop
reading if it will be a problem . . .

Coleman Silk is a classics professor at a small New England college
and has become dean, making an influential mark on college
politics and has made a few enemies along the way.  So when he is
accused of racism in his classroom, the faculty generally does not
stand up for him, although the racism charge is hard to believe,
and he is dismissed.

He feels that he has a story to tell, and goes to his neighbor and
friend, Nathan Zuckerman, and asks him to write his biography.

While doing some research, Zuckerman discovers that Coleman Silk
is not who he says he is.  Or, rather, not the Jewish classics professor
that everyone assumes he is.  He was raised as a light-skinned African
American and decided to pass for white when he entered the army in
his late teens.

The part in the book where he parts with his mother is one of the
most tender moments in the book, with her being resigned to his
decision and asking only that she might someday see her grandchildren
by sitting on a park bench as he walks by with them.

Silk’s wife has died of a stroke, presumedly because of the anguish of
the scandal of his losing his position at the college.  After a while, Silk
becomes involved with the female janitor at the school.  The contrast
between their two stations in life makes one wonder which is the bigger
leap in life style–that of changing race, or class.

The book club generally liked the book and its fast-moving story, but
tired easily from  the coarse language Roth apparently sees the necessity
of using in his writing.  It’s the second book by Roth in the group’s
reading history, and he is unlikely to be chosen for a third selection.



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6 Responses to Book Review: The Human Stain by Philip Roth

  1. FictionFan says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with Roth, as I think I may have said before. This one fell somewhere in the middle for me. But yes, I also tire quite easily of the language, not to mention his middle-aged/elderly male obsession with sex. Ah well! Boys, eh? 😉

    • booksandbuttons says:

      He used to be fun, but I think I’ve moved on. He can write,
      I won’t deny it, but there are other things I’d rather read.
      And, I believe, he’s hung up his pen for good after what,
      41 novels? Not too shabby.
      Nice to hear from you, FF.

  2. Stefanie says:

    I’ve only read one Roth book, the Plot Against America. I liked it but just haven’t been compelled to read more. This sounds really good though, so maybe…

    • booksandbuttons says:

      Well the academic background is interesting, and it DOES
      go right along. But I wouldn’t put it at the top of the
      to-be-read pile . . .thanks for your comment.

  3. Sandra says:

    I struggle with the later Roth, I find his writing rather superior. SD

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