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Neighborhoods

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I was born almost 78 years ago in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. And I was raised in Newark and I stayed there until I went up to college. My mother, whose name was Bess, was a homemaker as they used to say in those days. She was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, of immigrant parents. My grandparents on both sides were immigrants. My mother's parents came from the region of Kiev in Russia [sic], beyond that I don't know anything. My father's parents were from... Austria-Hungary, the province of Galicia, a town called Koslov, which is about 25 miles or so from what was then Lemberg, is now Lviv.

My grandparents spoke Yiddish, of course. I didn't understand them so there was a… a strange distance between… between the kids of my generation and those immigrant grandparents, in that you felt all their feeling for you but you didn't know what they were saying, and so it increased the pathos really of the relationship because the feeling was strong. And my parents were American born as I've said. My father was born in Newark right next to Elizabeth and he was born 1901, my mother was born 1904. My father was educated only to the 8th grade, my mother went to high school. In my father's day in Newark, the statistics are shocking, and that is that two out of three immigrant children – the children of immigrants – didn't go beyond the 8th grade, two out of three. Where did they do? They went to the factory.

Born in March 1933, American writer Philip Roth's fame rests on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrays in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he writes, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth has received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Newark, New Jersey, Elizabeth, Kiev, Austria-Hungary, Galicia, America, Bess Roth

Duration: 6 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013