The Human Stain by Philip Roth
A Novel (Nathan Zuckerman)

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While his frequent alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, seems extraneous at first as Silk's hired biographer, his presence underlines what Roth sees as the author's role: to free the truth from ideologues like Roux and reveal it in all its cluttered, bountiful detail. For the most part, The Human Stain does exactly that.
-AV Club

Synopsis

It is 1998, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president, and in a small New England town, an aging classics professor, Coleman Silk, is forced to retire when his colleagues decree that he is a racist. The charge is a lie, but the real truth about Silk would have astonished his most virulent accuser. Coleman Silk has a secret. But it's not the secret of his affair, at seventy-one, with Faunia Farley, a woman half his age with a savagely wrecked past--a part-time farmhand and a janitor at the college where, until recently, he was the powerful dean of faculty. And it's not the secret of Coleman's alleged racism, which provoked the college witch-hunt that cost him his job and, to his mind, killed his wife. Nor is it the secret of misogyny, despite the best efforts of his ambitious young colleague, Professor Delphine Roux, to expose him as a fiend. Coleman's secret has been kept for fifty years: from his wife, his four children, his colleagues, and his friends, including the writer Nathan Zuckerman, who sets out to understand how this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, had fabricated his identity and how that cannily controlled life came unraveled. Set in 1990s America, where conflicting moralities and ideological divisions are made manifest through public denunciation and rituals of purification, The Human Stain concludes Philip Roth's eloquent trilogy of postwar American lives that are as tragically determined by the nation's fate as by the "human stain" that so ineradicably marks human nature. This harrowing, deeply compassionate, and completely absorbing novel is a magnificent successor to his Vietnam-era novel, American Pastoral, and his McCarthy-era novel, I Married a Communist.
 

About Philip Roth

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Philip Roth was born in New Jersey in 1933.  He studied literature at Bucknell University and the University of Chicago.  His first book, Goodbye, Columbus, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1960.  He has lived in Rome, London, Chicago, New York City, Princeton, and New England.  Since 1955, he has been on the faculties of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where is now Adjunct Professor of English.  He is also General Editor of the Penguin Books series "Writers from the Other Europe."  Recently he has been spending half of each year in Europe, traveling and writing.
 
Published May 10, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 379 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Scott Tobias on Mar 29 2002

While his frequent alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, seems extraneous at first as Silk's hired biographer, his presence underlines what Roth sees as the author's role: to free the truth from ideologues like Roux and reveal it in all its cluttered, bountiful detail. For the most part, The Human Stain does exactly that.

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