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The Human Stain by Philip Roth
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The Human Stain (2000)

by Philip Roth, Philip Roth

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4,580601,047 (3.85)156
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English (51)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
As always, great use of the language. Characterization keeps the reader hooked... ( )
  JosephKing6602 | Jul 21, 2014 |
A very interesting meditation on the slippage in higher ed since the turn of the millennium (even though the book is set in 98--things haven't gotten better, they've gotten worse). Some excellent statements on how the culture of dumb has accelerated that slip. Some of the things Coleman's sister days at the end of the novel are so true they hurt. The lengthy Faulkner-influenced style of the prose can be grating at times, but even that sense of impatience with a narrative voice underlines what Roth-via-his-characters is saying about the state of culture and intelligence. Read this one, especially if you're a teacher or professor. ( )
  JWarren42 | Oct 10, 2013 |
The main character is too obnoxious and too misogenist. Racism is the main theme but it is overwhelmed by the sleaziness of the whole story. It reads like a cheap and depressing 3rd rate crime bulletin. That's it for me, as far as this author is concerned. ( )
  Miguelnunonave | Aug 5, 2013 |
Great plot twists, especially the big secret about Professor Silk. Was his racial slur really a racial slur? Would have liked more details about what happens to Silk's family after he leaves and less focus on the crazy ex-husband of the overly sexy janitor woman. Roth is just too obsessed with sex for an old man! ( )
  sushitori | Aug 1, 2013 |
Coleman Silk is a light-skinned African American who has been pretending he was white since his 20's. He becomes a professor at a small liberal arts college and moves his way up to the position of Dean of the school. But, he casually makes a comment about absent students being 'spooks' because he has never seen them, but since the students are African American, his comment is misconstrued to be racist. Rather than reveal his secret, he resigns from his post. His reputation continues its downward spiral when he begins an affair with an illiterate woman who is 40 years younger than he is.

I enjoyed reading this book, but at the end, I had that uncomfortable feeling that there was some big 'ah ha' message in this story that I completely missed. Beautifully written, but for me, the message was lost. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Rothprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roth, Philipmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Oedipus:
What is the rite
or purification? How shall it be done?

Creon:
By banishing a man, or expiation
of blood by blood . . .

--Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Dedication
For R.M.
First words
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 in 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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375726349, Paperback)

Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk--formerly "Silky Silk," undefeated welterweight pro boxer--strode in and shook the place awake. This faculty dean sacked the deadwood, made lots of hot new hires, including Yale-spawned literary-theory wunderkind Delphine Roux, and pissed off so many people for so many decades that now, in 1998, they've all turned on him. Silk's character assassination is partly owing to what the novel's narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, calls "the Devil of the Little Place--the gossip, the jealousy, the acrimony, the boredom, the lies."

But shocking, intensely dramatized events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication," and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble," and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado," Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.

In a short space, it's tough to convey the gale-force quality of Silk's rants, or the odd effect of Zuckerman's narration, alternately retrospective and torrentially in the moment. The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey are just as important as his turbulent forced retirement, because it turns out that for his entire adult life, Silk has been covering up the fact that he is a black man. (If this seems implausible, consider that the famous New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard did the same thing.) Young Silk rejects both the racism that bars him from Woolworth's counter and the Negro solidarity of Howard University. "Neither the they of Woolworth's nor the we of Howard" is for Coleman Silk. "Instead the raw I with all its agility. Self-discovery--that was the punch to the labonz.... Self-knowledge but concealed. What is as powerful as that?"

Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband (a sketchy guy who seems to have wandered in from a lesser Russell Banks novel), scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off, kick ass, and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Coleman Silk is a respected professor at a New England college who suddenly finds his life unraveling after a comment he makes about some African-American students is misinterpreted as a racial slur. As the scandal heats up, Nathan Zuckerman, a writer researching a biography of Silk, begins to dig deeply into Silk's life. Eventually, matters are made worse when Coleman's affair with a young married janitor named Faunia Farley is exposed. But amid the controversy, Silk must struggle to keep his greatest secret, a secret he's held for the majority of his life, from becoming made public.… (more)

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