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The Human Stain: A Novel Hardcover – May 10 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; None edition (May 10 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618059458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618059454
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 14.9 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 649 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #453,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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First Sentence
IT WAS in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk-who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty-confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college. Read the first page
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By I LOVE BOOKS TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 30 2008
Format: Paperback
Let me just start with the silliest comment: the only way to find out whether you like this book or not, is by reading it. Most reviews here and on Amazon.com reflect ambivalent feelings. After turning the last page, mine was not altogether negative, but not entirely positive either. This was also my first book by Philip Roth.

Ageing but vigorous professor Coleman Silk is accused of racism in the classroom and forcefully rejecting it (in vain), he chooses to retire after a long, fulfilling and esteemed teaching career. His tale is told by his friend, writer Nathan Zuckerman. Hardly acknowledging each other for years, a friendship begins and Zuckerman tries to understand the multiple facets defining Silk's personality. Unbeknownst to him, he will later discover a secret that Silk has kept for decades, a secret which his life had been, and still is, based on.

Looping around the main theme, there are other characters who are connected with Silk and bear relevance. In the background, Coleman's parents and siblings. Their beginnings, the struggles to send all their children to proper schools for the best education possible. We then have his wife, a strong, independent personality who died during the `racism ordeal', and their four adult children (it's 1998 by then). Silk's bursting rage and pain towards these two -to him- related events (the accusations and his wife's death), find a degree of comfort through the acquaintance -later developing into something much more- of Faunia, a janitor in the Athena college where he used to teach. Faunia, a tormented soul herself, does not seem to be left alone by her ex-husband, Les, who keeps stalking her after a terrible tragedy struck at their home some years previously.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had seen the film, but obviously, the book has more depth and is even more satisfying. I chose this book for my book club because it has multiple layers and explores contemporary societal themes. The writing style is sharp, at time humorous, at time gripping, the reader is kept spellbound by the drama of the unravelling life of Coleman Silk, the novel's main character.
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Format: Hardcover
Philip Roth has written a penetrating novel that illustrates something very important about university life today. He treats the threat from the political left, now the power elite on campus, as something more ominous than a misguided fashion that will soon pass; he sees the desire purge dissenting faculty as an effort to degrade and dehumanize any dissidents and destroy what remains of genuine learning. Even more importantly, he has dissected and displayed the psychological basis of the desire to reconstruct or muzzle old-school faculty, and created compelling archetypes easily recognizable to anyone familiar with the current academic game.
The events are described in the voice of several characters, each with a dramatically different but always pathetic take on things. Roth has an amazing ability to inhabit the minds and souls of all his characters, but none better than Delphine Roux, the young French literary theorist whom Coleman Silk--the 71-year old classicist--hired in a weak moment. She uses the apparatus of deconstructionism and its rarified vocabulary, along with a relentlessly feminist take on the world, to immunize herself from attack from colleagues and to belittle classics and traditional critics she either has not read or cannot understand.
In Roth's portrayal of this woman, her style masks a lack of learning and scholarly confidence, and her political ideology is a weapon to use against anyone who threatens to expose her as the flake that she is. She, of course, was glad to see Silk purged from the faculty after accusations of racism, on grounds that he is also an obvious sexist. He once showed no sympathy for a student who complained she couldn't understand his lecture on Euripides because of his "engendered language.
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Format: Paperback
In short, but expansive descriptions, Roth takes us inside the psyche of his characters and reveals in the process much about our American selves.
Read it if you dare.
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Format: Paperback
This is a story about the human condition, about each of us being trapped -- trapped ironically by intensely following our own earthly dreams and ambitions -- in a tangled, unavoidably stained web uniquely of our own making: a "human stain" that permanently tarnishes our passage -- everyone's passage -- through life. It also is a saga of a tragic and futile attempt by two individuals to break free of these tangled webs, webs that have defined their lives within differing strata of society, and in the process entangling the embedded author Nathan Zuckerman himself in their human dilemmas and strivings, dilemmas that according to Roth only a maniac creator could have conceived.
I enjoyed this book for lots of reasons, not the least of which being Roth's scorn for the illusions and pretensions infecting the modern ultra-liberal university environment. He also, at least in my view, has the primary and most important battle of modern life squarely in focus, the disconnect between our deepest sense of "self" and the demands made by Western society to negate and thus to enslave that "self," a disconnect that promotes a modern Faustian bargain promising material paradise in return for succumbing to the "system," that costs everything of permanent value, and that ultimately delivers the empty shells of our scooped-out souls at the very gates of hell.
This is not a happy or funny book. At times it rambles, but Roth's reputation has earned that indulgence for him, and of course some "ramblings" provide superb insights into human nature. Some creations in the book are, at least for me, too "cute," such as the middle name "Brutus" for the main character, Dr Coleman Silk, and like the list of pedantic terms used to show Silk's mastery of the English language.
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