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203 página
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Lançado em:
Oct 5, 2010


Set in a Newark neighborhood during a terrifying polio outbreak, Nemesis is a wrenching examination of the forces of circumstance on our lives.

Bucky Cantor is a vigorous, dutiful twenty-three-year-old playground director during the summer of 1944. A javelin thrower and weightlifter, he is disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. As the devastating disease begins to ravage Bucky’s playground, Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: fear, panic, anger, bewilderment, suffering, and pain. Moving between the streets of Newark and a pristine summer camp high in the Poconos, Nemesis tenderly and startlingly depicts Cantor’s passage into personal disaster, the condition of childhood, and the painful effect that the wartime polio epidemic has on a closely-knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

Lançado em:
Oct 5, 2010

Sobre o autor

Philip Roth (1933-2018) was the award-winning author of Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Great American Novel, and the books that became known as the Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson), among many others. His honors include two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, the Man Booker International Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and the Pulitzer Prize. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Philip studied literature at Bucknell University, graduating magna cum laude with a B.A., and at the University of Chicago where he received an M.A. From 1955 to 1991, he taught writing and literature classes on the faculties of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, he was the only third living writer whose books were published by the Library of America. He lived in Manhattan and Connecticut.

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Nemesis - Philip Roth


Copyright © 2010 by Philip Roth

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Roth, Philip.

Nemesis / Philip Roth.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-547-31835-6

I. Title.

PS3568.0855N46 2010

813'.54—dc22 2010026217

Cover design by Milton Glaser

Author photograph © Nancy Crampton

eISBN 978-0-547-50450-6


I’ll Be Seeing You, written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain, © 1938 (Renewed 1966, 1994) THE NEW IRVING KAHAL MUSIC (ASCAP)/Administered by BUG MUSIC and FAIN MUSIC CO. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.

For H. L.


Sources from which I’ve drawn information include The Throws Manual, by George D. Dunn, Jr., and Kevin McGill; The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade; Teaching Springboard Diving, by Anne Ross Fairbanks; Camp Management and Recreational Programs for Summer Camps, by H. W. Gibson; Dirt and Disease, by Naomi Rogers; Polio’s Legacy, by Edmund J. Sass; A Paralyzing Fear, by Nina Gilden Seavey, Jane S. Smith, and Paul Wagner; Polio Voices, by Julie Silver and Daniel Wilson; and A Manufactured Wilderness, by Abigail Van Slyck. Particularly useful was The Book of Woodcraft, by Ernest Thompson Seton, from which I have liberally drawn on pages 209–214, and Manual of the Woodcraft Indians, also by Seton, from which I have quoted on pages 146–147.


Equatorial Newark

THE FIRST CASE of polio that summer came early in June, right after Memorial Day, in a poor Italian neighborhood crosstown from where we lived. Over in the city’s southwestern corner, in the Jewish Weequahic section, we heard nothing about it, nor did we hear anything about the next dozen cases scattered singly throughout Newark in nearly every neighborhood but ours. Only by the Fourth of July, when there were already forty cases reported in the city, did an article appear on the front page of the evening paper, titled Health Chief Puts Parents on Polio Alert, in which Dr. William Kittell, superintendent of the Board of Health, was quoted as cautioning parents to monitor their children closely and to contact a physician if a child exhibited symptoms such as headache, sore throat, nausea, stiff neck, joint pain, or fever. Though Dr. Kittell acknowledged that forty polio cases was more than twice as many as normally reported this early in the polio season, he wanted it clearly understood that the city of 429,000 was by no means suffering from what could be characterized as an epidemic of poliomyelitis. This summer as every summer, there was reason for concern and for the proper hygienic precautions to be taken, but there was as yet no cause for the sort of alarm that had been displayed by parents, justifiably enough, twenty-eight years earlier, during the largest outbreak of the disease ever reported—the 1916 polio epidemic in the northeastern United States, when there had been more than 27,000 cases, with 6,000 deaths. In Newark there had been 1,360 cases and 363 deaths.

Now even in a year with an average number of cases, when the chances of contracting polio were much reduced from what they’d been back in 1916, a paralytic disease that left a youngster permanently disabled and deformed or unable to breathe outside a cylindrical metal respirator tank known as an iron lung—or that could lead from paralysis of the respiratory muscles to death—caused the parents in our neighborhood considerable apprehension and marred the peace of mind of children who were free of school for the summer months and able to play outdoors all day and into the long twilit evenings. Concern for the dire consequences of falling seriously ill from polio was compounded by the fact that no medicine existed to treat the disease and no vaccine to produce immunity. Polio—or infantile paralysis, as it was called when the disease was thought to infect mainly toddlers—could befall anyone, for no apparent reason. Though children up to sixteen were usually the sufferers, adults too could become severely infected, as had the current president of the United States.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, polio’s most renowned victim, had contracted the disease as a vigorous man of thirty-nine and subsequently had to be supported when he walked and, even then, had to wear heavy steel-and-leather braces from his hips to his feet to enable him to stand. The charitable institution that FDR founded while he was in the White House, the March of Dimes, raised money for research and for financial assistance to the families of the stricken; though partial or even full recovery was possible, it was often only after months or years of expensive hospital therapy and rehabilitation. During the annual fund drive, America’s young donated their dimes at school to help in the fight against the disease, they dropped their dimes into collection cans passed around by ushers in movie theaters, and posters announcing You Can Help, Too! and Help Fight Polio! appeared on the walls of stores and offices and in the corridors of schools across the country, posters of children in wheelchairs—a pretty little girl wearing leg braces shyly sucking her thumb, a clean-cut little boy with leg braces heroically smiling with hope—posters that made the possibility of getting the disease seem all the more frighteningly real to otherwise healthy children.

Summers were steamy in low-lying Newark, and because the city was partially ringed by extensive wetlands—a major source of malaria back when that, too, was an unstoppable disease—there were swarms of mosquitoes to be swatted and slapped away whenever we sat on beach chairs in the alleys and driveways at night, seeking refuge out of doors from our sweltering flats, where there was nothing but a cold shower and ice water to mitigate the hellish heat. This was before the advent of home air conditioning, when a small black electric fan, set on a table to stir up a breeze indoors, offered little relief once the temperature reached the high nineties, as it did repeatedly that summer for stretches of a week or ten days. Outdoors, people lit citronella candles and sprayed with cans of the insecticide Flit to keep at bay the mosquitoes and flies that were known to have carried malaria, yellow fever, and typhoid fever and were believed by many, beginning with Newark’s Mayor Drummond, who launched a citywide Swat the Fly campaign, to carry polio. When a fly or a mosquito managed to penetrate the screens of a family’s flat or fly in through an open door, the insect would be doggedly hunted down with fly swatter and Flit out of fear that by alighting with its germ-laden legs on one of the household’s sleeping children it would infect the youngster with polio. Since nobody then knew the source of the contagion, it was possible to grow suspicious of almost anything, including the bony alley cats that invaded our backyard garbage cans and the haggard stray dogs that slinked hungrily around the houses and defecated all over the sidewalk and street and the pigeons that cooed in the gables of the houses and dirtied front stoops with their chalky droppings. In the first month of the outbreak—before it was acknowledged as an epidemic by the Board of Health—the sanitation department set about systematically to exterminate the city’s huge population of alley cats, even though no one knew whether they had any more to do with polio than domesticated house cats.

What people did know was that the disease was highly contagious and might be passed to the healthy by mere physical proximity to those already infected. For this reason, as the number of cases steadily mounted in the city—and communal fear with it—many children in our neighborhood found themselves prohibited by their parents from using the big public pool at Olympic Park in nearby Irvington, forbidden to go to the local air-cooled movie theaters, and forbidden to take the bus downtown or to travel Down Neck to Wilson Avenue to see our minor league team, the Newark Bears, play baseball at Ruppert Stadium. We were warned not to use public toilets or public drinking fountains or to swig a drink out of someone else’s soda-pop bottle or to get a chill or to play with strangers or to borrow books from the public library or to talk on a public pay phone or to buy food from a street vendor or to eat until we had cleaned our hands thoroughly with soap and water. We were to wash all fruit and vegetables before we ate them, and we were to keep our distance from anyone who looked sick or complained of any of polio’s telltale symptoms.

Escaping the city’s heat entirely and being sent off to a summer camp in the mountains or the countryside was considered a child’s best protection against catching polio. So too was spending the summer some sixty miles away at the Jersey Shore. A family who could afford it rented a bedroom with kitchen privileges in a rooming house in Bradley Beach, a strip of sand, boardwalk, and cottages a mile long that had already been popular for several decades among North Jersey Jews. There the mother and the children would go to the beach to breathe in the fresh, fortifying ocean air all week long and be joined on weekends and vacations by the father. Of course, cases of polio were known to crop up in summer camps as they did in the shore’s seaside towns, but because they were nothing like as numerous as those reported back in Newark, it was widely believed that, whereas city surroundings, with their unclean pavements and stagnant air, facilitated contagion, settling within sight or sound of the sea or off in the country or up in the mountains afforded as good a guarantee as there was of evading the disease.

So the privileged lucky ones disappeared from the city for the summer while the rest of us remained behind to do exactly what we shouldn’t, given that overexertion was suspected of being yet another possible cause of polio: we played inning after inning and game after game of softball on the baking asphalt of the school playground, running around all day in the extreme heat, drinking thirstily from the forbidden water fountain, between innings seated on a bench crushed up against one another, clutching in our laps the well-worn, grimy mitts we used out in the field to mop the sweat off our foreheads and to keep it from running into our eyes—clowning and carrying on in our soaking polo shirts and our smelly sneakers, unmindful of how our imprudence might be dooming any one of us to lifelong incarceration in an iron lung and the realization of the body’s most dreadful fears.

Only a dozen or so girls ever appeared at the playground, mainly kids of eight or nine who could usually be seen jumping rope where far center field dropped off into a narrow school street closed to traffic. When the girls weren’t jumping rope they used the street for hopscotch and running-bases and playing jacks or for happily bouncing a pink rubber ball at their feet all day long. Sometimes when the girls jumping rope played double dutch, twirling two ropes in opposite directions, one of the boys would rush up unbidden and, elbowing aside the girl who was about to jump, leap in and mockingly start bellowing the girls’ favorite jumping song while deliberately entangling himself in their flying ropes. H, my name is Hippopotamus—! The girls would holler at him Stop it! Stop it! and call out for help from the playground director, who had only to shout from wherever he was on the playground to the troublemaker (most days it was the same boy), Cut it out, Myron! Leave the girls alone or you’re going home! With that, the uproar subsided. Soon the jump ropes were once again snappily turning in the air and the chanting taken up anew by one jumper after another:

A, my name is Agnes

And my husband’s name is Alphonse,

We come from Alabama

And we bring back apples!

B, my name is Bev

And my husband’s name is Bill,

We come from Bermuda

And we bring back beets!

C, my name is . . .

With their childish voices, the girls encamped at the far edge of the playground improvised their way from A to Z and back again, alliterating the nouns at the end of the line, sometimes preposterously, each time around. Leaping and darting about with excitement—except when Myron Kopferman and his like would apishly interfere—they exhibited astounding energy; unless they were summoned by the playground director to retreat to the shade of the school because of the heat, they didn’t vacate that street from the Friday in June when the spring term ended to the Tuesday after Labor Day when the fall term began and they could jump rope only after school and at recess.

The playground director that year was Bucky Cantor, who, because of poor vision that necessitated his wearing thick eyeglasses, was one of the few young men around who wasn’t off fighting in the war. During the previous school year, Mr. Cantor had become the new phys ed teacher at Chancellor Avenue School and so already knew many of us who habituated the playground from the gym classes he taught. He was twenty-three that summer, a graduate of South Side, Newark’s mixed-race, mixed-religion high school, and Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene in East Orange. He stood slightly under five feet five inches tall, and though he was a superior athlete and strong competitor, his height, combined with his poor vision, had prevented him from playing college-level football, baseball, or basketball and restricted his intercollegiate sports activity to throwing the javelin and lifting weights. Atop his compact body was a good-sized head formed of emphatically slanting and sloping components: wide pronounced cheekbones, a steep forehead, an angular jaw, and a long straight nose with a prominent bridge that lent his profile the sharpness of a silhouette engraved on a coin. His full lips were as well defined as his muscles, and his complexion was tawny year-round. Since adolescence he had worn his hair in a military-style crewcut. You particularly noticed his ears with that haircut, not because they were unduly large, which they were not, not necessarily because they were joined so closely to his head, but because, seen from the side, they were shaped much like the ace of spades in a pack of cards, or the wings on the winged feet of mythology, with topmost tips that weren’t rounded off, as most ears are, but came nearly to a point. Before his grandfather dubbed him Bucky, he was known briefly as Ace to his childhood street pals, a nickname inspired not merely by his precocious excellence at sports but by the uncommon configuration of those ears.

Altogether the oblique planes of his face gave the smoky gray eyes back of his glasses—eyes long and narrow like an Asian’s—a deeply pocketed look, as though they were not so much set as cratered in the skull. The voice emerging from this precisely delineated face was, unexpectedly, rather high-pitched, but that did not diminish the force of his appearance. His was the cast-iron, wear-resistant, strikingly bold face of a sturdy young man you could rely on.

ONE AFTERNOON early in July, two cars full of Italians from East Side High, boys anywhere from fifteen to eighteen, drove in and parked at the top of the residential street back of the school, where the playground was situated. East Side was in the Ironbound section, the industrial slum that had reported the most cases of polio in the city so far. As soon as Mr. Cantor saw them pull up, he dropped his mitt on the field—he was playing third base in one of our pickup games—and trotted over to where the ten strangers had emptied out of the two cars. His athletic, pigeon-toed trot was already being imitated by the playground kids, as was his purposeful way of lightly lifting himself as he moved on the balls of his feet, and the slight sway, when he walked, of his substantial shoulders. For some of the boys his entire bearing had become theirs both on and off the playing field.

What do you fellows want here? Mr. Cantor said.

We’re spreadin’ polio, one of the Italians replied. He was the one who’d come swaggering out of the cars first. Ain’t that right? he said, turning to preen for the cohorts backing him up, who appeared right off to Mr. Cantor to be only too eager to begin a brawl.

You look more like you’re spreadin’ trouble, Mr. Cantor told him. Why don’t you head out of here?

No, no, the Italian guy insisted, not till we spread some polio. We got it and you don’t, so we thought we’d drive up and spread a little around. All the while he talked, he rocked back and forth on his heels to indicate how tough he was. The brazen ease of his thumbs tucked into the front two loops of his trousers served no less than his gaze to register his contempt.

I’m playground director here, Mr. Cantor said, pointing back over his shoulder

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14 avaliações / 40 Análises
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Avaliações de leitores

  • (4/5)
    Often held up as the best example of latter-day Roth, and with good reason. It poses interesting moral questions,against a backdrop of sweltering heat beautifully rendered by the author. Very accessible and an easy recommendation.
  • (3/5)
    This was my first book by Philip Roth, and unfortunately it was not an impressive first impression. The plot sounded interesting, about a polio epidemic in New Jersey in 1944 and how the multicultural community responds to the outbreak. Unfortunately, I found the main character, Bucky Cantor, to become increasingly irksome, until I reached a point where I thought he was one of the most unlikable characters I have met in recent years. His transformation over the course of the book is a rapid downhill slide until you want to throttle him. Perhaps Roth intended readers to feel this way and contemplate the fate of the anti-hero, but it didn't work for me.
  • (5/5)
    Terrific book! I literally devoured it. NEMESIS is Roth's tribute to the polio plague years of the 1940s and how that dreaded disease scared the hell out of everyone every summer. And his protagonist, Bucky Cantor, will remain, for me, one of his more memorable characters, right up there with Gabe Wallach and Libby Herz from LETTING GO, which has always been one of my all-time favorite Roth novels. For those who remember polio, as well as for those who don't, I recommend this book highly.
  • (4/5)
    A powerful read, utterly absorbing, emotional and ultimately tragic.
  • (3/5)
    Very interesting, based carefully on truth. Well told. Main character, Mr. Cantor, is a stand-up guy, great coach and boy-friend. He is though a bit narcissistic. He ends relationships and becomes self-hating by the end of the book - depressing.
  • (3/5)
    Audiobook. Should be a 3.5. I have followed Roth's recent books with interest. He is a few years ahead me on the road to old age and is writing about that experience in a way that fascinates me. This book has a somewhat different take on the concerns of my group and those just ahead of us. This story goes back to the polio epedemics of the 40s and 50s and brings that story near to the present. Fear of polio vaguely haunted my childhood. I came to know those in my age group who had polio (my immediately family and friends in my small town were spared) but I remember all of the drama around the polio vaccines. Going to the county armory for first the shots and then the sugar cubes. So this book was of great interest. What surprised me most about this book was its last chapter. Naturalizes the telling into a first-person narrative by someone living in the story. Takes the story of Bucky into the future of the book. And the undauntable Bucky is daunted. It becomes in its final moments a meditation on what makes folks flexible, able to cope, and what can doom to rigidity, being trapped. I find myself lingering over this book more because of the way it ends, without the happy ending I would have liked.
  • (4/5)
    As you read Philip Roth's moving story of a Jewish neighborhood in Newark NJ fearful of the spread of polio, you can feel panic and paranoia as two boys are abruptly stricken. There is a desperation because of the lack of information about the disease as the vaccine was on licensed in 1962. The author's excellent writing examines the question of why God would allow innocent children to die of polio. I enjoyed this touching novel and I would highly recommend it as it is intelligent writing at its best.
  • (3/5)
    A young man struggles with the big questions in the midst of a polio epidemic. Why is there suffering in the world, so randomly and carelessly delivered? Who is responsible? Why does God allow it (engineer it?) I've always like Roth's narrator-who-is-not-the-main-character method, and he returns to that for this, his final novel (he says). Didn't like it quite as much as Indignation, but these two clear and simple books are interesting, highly readable, and curiously haunting additions to his canon.
  • (2/5)
    Not entirely sure what to make of this, if I'm honest. Bucky Cantor is an athletic young man who finds himself not in Europe, fighting alongside his friends, but stuck in New York in the hot summer of '44. He's working as a PE teacher and is playground supervisor of a playground in the Jewish quarter. In the summer the polio returns to the city. At least initially, it does not impact on the boys in Bucky's playground, but then it hits and hits hard. Children fall ill and some die. Bucky is unable to rationalise what is happening, he can't understand a God that can kill children in this way, yet can't accept that it has a non-human or divine cause. Bucky's girlfriend is in a summer camp in the hills and freshair. After a couple of days of burgeoning epidemic taking more of the children and fewer parents allowing them out to congregate in the playground, Bucky quits his job. He takes a role as watersports director at the summer camp. Which is a perfect fit, but does nothing to reconcile him between his duty to the boys and the wishes of Marcia. And all is going along swimmingly until a boy in Bucky's hut falls ill with Polio. Bucky is tortured with fear that he's brought it to the camp, that it is his fault. And so the disintegration begins. As someone for whom polio is a vaccination we had in childhood, I can't grasp the fear. As someone with a scientific turn of mind, I can't appreciate Bucky's failure to grasp the cause of the illness. As an agnostic, I've long since dealt with the divine and find Bucky's conflict in this regard to be somewhat superficial. It seems that his turn of mind has God as something either purely good, or entirely evil. Something entirely fictional might be the rational response. So I found the guilt to be somewhat overwrought and overblown. I get that there's moral, I just don't think it worked as a morality tale.
  • (5/5)
    A truly admirable writer who gets you hooked on the building suspense, the characters, the complexity of the struggle between good and evil, and the psychology of the mind in rationalising one's actions or inactions. This is what I read fiction for. Challenging, thoughtful and enlightening. The skills with which this writer brings scenes to mind, has you identifying with them and thinking hard about them long after you've finished the book make him a permanent part of my pantheon of writing heroes.
  • (4/5)
    A story set during the polio outbreak during WWII explores how communities and individuals react in the face of epidemic. It especially explores how one young man's view of God is changed by circumstances of life and the polio outbreak.
  • (2/5)
    mildly interesting
  • (5/5)
    I love Philip Roth. He shows us the world through his narrow focus on Newark, N.J. In this short novel, the polio epidemic stalks the populace. Reactions vary from courage to anger, logic to insanity.Bucky Cantor is a likeable promising young Phys Ed teacher who runs a city playground. The story heats up as Bucky deals with the prejudices that arise as God's Chosen People appear to be spared.My mother spent a few scary nights with me as a child in the hospital with a suspected case of polio that turned out to be measles. And, my child was born in the early days of AIDS and I wrestled with the unknown dangers of that. So I had a special interest in Nemesis but I think it has general appeal given the fear of disease that we endure at least annually during flu season. And, even having lived through the polio crisis, I could never have predicted the story line.Audiobook reader Dennis Boutsikaris is stellar as always.
  • (4/5)
    These days we seem to be infected with a heavy dose of libertarianism. I'm OK; you're OK; now get off my lawn.But what if the opposite were true? What if you were someone who felt an inordinate amount of responsibility for others--and what if they started to die?Bucky Cantor is a playground director in Newark when the 1943 polio epidemic breaks out. He feels a strong responsibility for keeping his charges both safe from the hazards of the disease, but also from unneeded hysteria. When polio arrives in his neighborhood, Bucky seeks out advice on the right thing to do--and he does it. And then one day he makes a decision that will haunt him the rest of his life.The conclusion of Nemesis takes place 30 years after the first part of the story as Bucky retells how he has dealt with his decision and its consequences.Roth spends this last bit pondering the idea of responsibility and the guilt that it can bring when the circumstance is more than someone can handle. At what point can I stop being my brother's keeper and just keep myself? Or is there such a point?
  • (4/5)
    Great fictional read about the 1950's polio epidemic and the effect it has on a small community in Newark, New Jersey. Particularly affected is the boy's gym teacher/summer playground supervisor, who makes a choice he later regrets.
  • (4/5)
    Not my favorite Philip Roth - that honor goes to The Plot Against America - but this is an interesting portrayal of life during the polio epidemic in the US. For some reason, the last part of the book seems tacked on and doesn't fit well with the majority of the story, which is why I didn't rate the book higher.
  • (4/5)
    In 1944, there was no vaccine or cure for polio (though treatments existed which helped, to some degree, many who contracted the disease). Indeed, though it was known to be highly contagious, the mechanism of polio's spread was not yet understood. As a result, all manner of theories abounded regarding the risks, leading to a general state of paranoia during outbreaks of the disease. Who/what was to blame for its spread? Flies? The hot dog vendor? A mentally-challenged neighbor? Contaminated library books?This story explores the grim reality of urban life in a polio outbreak. However, it is even more the story of a man's grim battle with his own thoughts -- his fear, his conscience, his doubts, his guilt, and his anger at God -- in the face of a disease he cannot control and a World War in which he was deemed too nearsighted to serve.Bucky Cantor is the neighborhood playground director, and he watches helplessly as his young charges begin to sicken and die of polio. The reality of the situation eats away at him as he ponders the opportunity to escape the inner city for work as a camp counselor in the Pocono Mountains, where his girlfriend Marcia works. What is his duty to his young charges at the playground? Is his playground a killing field of contagion, or an oasis from even more dangerous situations?I listened to the audio version of this book (a Brilliance Audio production) and found some parts compelling, some parts a bit tedious, and some parts mildly curious (such as the description of summer camp life in the 1940's). Then there were the moments that left me with an "oh, no!" on my lips and a sinking feeling in my stomach as I anticipated what manner of disaster loomed ahead. In the end the biggest tragedy is, perhaps, less a matter of germs and twisted limbs, and more a matter of psychology and twisted thoughts -- because sometimes our mental state can stunt our lives more than any physical ailment.
  • (4/5)
    Does it sound heartless to say you enjoyed a story about people getting polio? This book is so well done that you feel like you're melting as the author describes the midsummer city heat. But what a relief when the main character goes to the mountains and breathes the cool, clean air! There's a lot of sorrow in the book, but oh, so much to admire.
  • (4/5)
    "Nemesis" was my first time reading anything by Philip Roth... I enjoyed the book though I'm not sure why it is on the list of 1,001 books to read before you die. The story centers on Bucky Cantor, a playground director when a polio epidemic hits Newark, N.J. I found the story was told well, but somewhat predictable... I could see fairly early on where it was going. That said, I thought Roth did a masterful job at peeling back the layers of Cantor's character.Overall, this was an interesting and quick read.
  • (3/5)
    I love Philip Roth but this was not my favorite. I listened to an interview of Roth on NPR recently and was looking forward to reading Nemesis. Roth is skillful in that he is able to convey so much in a few words. The construction of Nemesis was interesting with a narrator unknown until the end. The protagonist in Nemesis was like-able and it was disturbing to see the way his guilt (in not being fit to serve in war and in being a polio carrier) isolated him from people who cared about him for the rest of his life. It was very sad.
  • (4/5)
    Where I got the book: my own choice from the library.I've only read one other book by Philip Roth, The Human Stain. And I wasn't crazy about it, although I thought the writing was superior. (And I guess a few other people thought so too, since it won a PEN/Faulkner Award.)I liked Nemesis a whole lot more, even though I thought the novel was structurally flawed. Or is that genius, to build flaws deliberately into a novel and then get away with it? It's a fine line.[SPOILER ALERT] Nemesis is set in Newark in the hot summer of 1944, specifically in the Jewish community in Weequahic. It begins in an expository style, explaining the origins of the polio epidemic of that year, before introducing the main character, Bucky Cantor. This young man, a superb athlete but barred from war service by poor eyesight, works as a playground supervisor and has a passion for helping children grow as athletes. He is a model citizen: brought up by his grandparents, he grew up working in their business and did well at school. He is small, tough, and respected, and his relationship with a doctor's daughter promises a rise in society.But the polio epidemic hits Weequahic hard, and the playground is particularly badly affected. Children sicken and even die, and Bucky Cantor's faith in God is shaken as he tries to comfort the families and puzzle out why "his" children should be the victims of such a virulent strain. When he finally gives in to the temptation to leave it all behind and join his girlfriend at a camp in the mountains, Bucky's nemesis follows him and destroys his life.This is a great story told mostly in a tight narrative style interspersed with dialogue. I loved the affectionate descriptions of the community and its people, and really got a sense of the suffering of the families. The writing is excellent: tight and compelling, it sketches scenes with great economy of detail but considerable power, and the dialogues and action are completely convincing.Where the book fell down, for me, was the odd shock of discovering, about halfway into the book, that the narrator is not the anonymous "omniscient" so useful to novelists, but one of the polio victims; he tells Bucky's story (so that we see Bucky mostly as "Mr. Cantor") but really tells us almost nothing about his own part in it. The idea that he would have become friends with Bucky later in life and is now narrating what he has learned from him just doesn't strike true. I would have been OK with an omniscient narrator, but I find a second-hand narrative through a very minor character rather jarring.The second thing I did not like was precisely the account of Bucky later in life, when he has turned his back on his former love and all that connected him with the playground. The embittered invalid is a familiar enough trope, but the way this section of the novel is sandwiched between the actual story and a final description of Bucky in his glory days (which strikes me as an attempt to balance out the present-day section) doesn't work for me. Bucky's anger against God is explored in this section, but I think it could have been worked more satisfactorily into the main narrative given Roth's great ability with the pen.But I could be wrong. Maybe the flaws are deliberate attempts to break the rhythm of the narrative and shock the reader out of complacency. If they are, then I respect them. My overall impression is still of a powerful piece of writing that is well worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    Roth ranks near the top of my favorite authors roster. His minimalist writing style, paired his ability to vividly capture eras in American history, rarely leave me disappointed.I really liked "Nemesis." It certainly won't be remembered as one of Roth's classics. But it skillfully explores the themes of fear and personal resonsibility against an intriguing backdrop -- the polio epidemic in the 1940s. However, I must agree with LT reviewer JaneSteen's critique of the novel's structure. I won't delve in detail here; I don't fancy writing "spoiler alerts." But the tome's structure was a bit disjointed. I also found that Roth's minimalist style worked against him in this thin volume. I wanted to know more about the roots of the protaganist's sad choices that changed his life. Having said all this, "Nemesis" is well worth reading.
  • (3/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was well written and a touching, but devastating story about the reaction of a young man, Bucky, to a sweeping polio epidemic that befalls many of his young charges at the playground he is caretaker for. Bucky's character and his repsonses to the epidemic are explored throughout the book, as he experiences and reacts to the mounting pressure and anxiety of such an epidemic, which becomes the focus of life in Newark towards the end of the Second World War. I found this book easy to read and Roth tells a wonderful story of human anxiety and fear, which tends to be a theme running through many of his works.
  • (4/5)
    What a great book, though, now I am irrationally terrified of contracting poliomyelitis.
  • (4/5)
    My only prior experience with Philip Roth's works was with Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint, both of which I read many years ago and both of which I remember as rather crude. Nemesis was a pleasant surprise. Whether it is due to Roth's maturity as a writer, or my own maturity as a reader, I found Nemesis to be a gripping coming-of-age story. Set in Newark, NJ during the 1944 polio epidemic, it's the story of Bucky Cantor, a phys-ed teacher, summering as a playground instructor. He has found a career, a woman to love, and is on the brink of a wonderful life when tragedy strikes. I definitely recommend this book!
  • (4/5)
    "Nemesis" is a book in three parts. The first takes place in Newark, NJ during a polio outbreak in the summer of 1944, the second is in a sleep-away camp in the Poconos that same summer, and the third is 27 years later. The story is about Bucky Cantor, who is athletic and verile, and he begins the summer by facing the epidemic head-on with optimism and determination. The descriptions of the epidemic and its effects on a city and on one man's life are brilliant. Bucky ultimately questions his Jewish faith over the idea that God lets bad things happen to good people, and by the end that questioning has unravelled his life. It's an interesting riff on the Greek myth of Nemesis, but it felt disingenuine that Bucky has spent 27 years withering to the point where he's not even the narrator in his own story. I would have rather seen him grow or become destroyed, but the outcome of just existing felled this book for me.
  • (4/5)
    "Bucky" Cantor is a young physical education teacher who is spending his summer as a playground director in the largely Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic in Newark, New Jersey. It is the summer of 1944, one that would be remembered for its brutal heat and its devastating outbreak of paralytic polio, the worst outbreak to strike the city since 1916. Bucky is distressed that he cannot join his two best friends in the war effort, as his poor eyesight makes him ineligible for the draft. He is a serious and dedicated teacher and mentor to the boys in the playground, who love and respect him unconditionally, as do their parents. Bucky is deeply in love is Marcia Steinberg, the strikingly beautiful daughter of a beloved community physician, who teaches in the same school where he works. She is spending the summer as a counselor in a camp in the Poconos, and she begs him to join her there.Weequahic is seemingly protected from polio, which has begun to make inroads in the surrounding neighborhoods, until two of the playground boys suddenly succumb to the illness. As the epidemic flares with a vengeance, the members of the community panic and point fingers at the city's leadership, the parents of the stricken children, and anyone suspected of bringing the infection into the neighborhood. Bucky is deeply shaken, and questions his own role in the outbreak, and how a merciful God could allow such a pestilence to strike against innocent children.A position for a swimming instructor becomes available at the camp where Marcia is working, and Bucky leaves the disease plagued city to be with Marcia. There it is cool and idyllic, and polio is a distant memory. Bucky, however, is conflicted by his decision to leave the boys and his community, who he feels need him more than ever, but he is also free of the fear that he or the children in the camp will be the next polio victim and is alongside the woman he intends to marry.In Nemesis, Roth does a fine job of portraying the fear and paranoia that resulted from that awful summer of 1944, and the devastating effect of paralytic polio on its survivors and on the families of those who died from the illness. However, the main characters are one dimensional and thinly portrayed, which greatly dilutes the effect of the story. Roth's main theme in the book, the struggle of one man's responsibility toward his community and country and its conflict with personal happiness and fulfillment, is not handled as well as it could have been, and it seemed to this reader that the first 3/4 of the book served as a set up for a discussion of this theme, making for a somewhat disjointed and unsatisfying read. Nemesis is a good book, but it could have been a great one.
  • (4/5)
    with this book, i'm starting to understand roth's narrative sense. here, he unwraps the narrator a chapter at a time.
  • (4/5)
    An attempt at the great American plague novel. If Roth finally discusses something other than girl problems, he does pretty well. An old-fashioned reminiscence with all too relevant problems.
  • (3/5)
    Well written but depressing. Learned things, but meh. Read it for my book discussion group. Not something I would recommend.