Thursday, January 20, 2011


Philip Roth

Jonathan Cape, 2010

«Nemesis» is the thirty-first book of an American classic Philip Roth. Nemesis from the book title is the name of the goddess, and the actual wages dropped down to the hero of the book Bucky Cantor.

Twenty-three years old young physical education teacher in a school in Newark, Bucky in the summer of 1944 is the playground director, where children come to play. Bucky's parents died, and he was brought up by his grandparents. Cantor is young man full of energy, a great athlete, a good example for children, with whom he plays on the court. However, due to weak vision Bucky was not drafted into the army, in contrast to his two friends, flown away to fight in France. During that summer terrible polio epidemic happens, primarily affecting children. Every day, a number of kids who got polio grows more and more, and Bucky, strong physically, but spiritually hesitant young man, faces with the first dilemma, which he must decide for himself: Is it necessary during the epidemic to close playground, which may become a place where children can catch the virus, or vice versa, the playground should be open, because sport enhances children's bodies? Despite the death from the disease of the best pupil of Bucky Alan Michaels, Bucky leaves the playground open. The second test for Bucky Cantor becomes offer of his beloved Marcia, working at a summer camp not far from Newark. The young girl is worry about Bucky, fearing that he too can catch the disease and die. She offers him to quit work at playground and go to work at the camp, where she works: there are much safer in Indian Hill.

However Bucky can not so simply leave his grandmother and children, can not throw off all responsibility. Cantor blames himself for his lack of participation in World War II, it was his personal defeat and to leave his native city is exactly the same moral defeat to him. At the war ones fought with visible and tangible enemy, here, in Newark, at the terrible heat, in an almost deserted city the enemy is not visible, but it also kills, so give up and leave, no, Bucky can not allow himself one more fail. But the days pass, the number of polio cases keeps growing and growing, and Bucky calls Marcia: he is leaving Newark and will move to the camp in Indian Hill.

Roth chooses the narrator of the novel not Bucky Cantor, the main protagonist, but one of the boys, who in the summer, too, contracted polio but recovered, Arnie Mesnikoff. After several decades Mesnikoff and Cantor meet by chance on the street and from Bucky Mesnikoff finds out all the details of that story, what happened to his physical education teacher and forever changed his life. Roth thus moves the reader from his character, and in the mouth of Mesnikoff author actually puts those questions which he himself would have asked the aging Cantor. The distance between the hero and the reader does, of course, this novel rather model of the situation, than a situation itself. But Roth is the master, so from that as simple as two plus two story he drags on the surface these questions about God, free will, chance, weakness and strength that you wonder: how Roth the terrific writer is.

Bucky could not forgive himself of his act in that summer (and in the second part of this novel the reader learns to what this Bucky's escape to summer camp to Marcia led). Nemesis caught up with Bucky. Was that nemesis to Bucky God or Bucky himself was his own nemesis? Roth doesn't answer for us to this question. We ourselves will have the answer after reading this book.

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