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My neighbor the amputee


From Aunt Ethel's death to cousin Alvin's creation
Philip Roth Writer
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At... at the time, was I upset? I must have been. I don't think exceedingly upset, but I must have been upset sometimes and... and frightened probably.

So there we are. It's 1946 and now we come to 2000, the year 2000, half a century later, and I need a... I need an Aunt Ethel. I need something horrible to witness in my book. And so I invented Alvin, the... the cousin who goes to war… for the British, I think, because America's not in the war. He goes to war and he comes back with half a leg, and he's... he's in bed in my room. And then I have to invent what happens. Well, it's a pleasure to invent what happens. I... I have an idea what it's like to... be in the room with somebody who's in terrible trouble, you know, and... but I... I veer away from that almost immediately because the trouble he's in is different from the trouble she was in. He's a young man, and so on. So I went out and I got some books on amputations. I probably still have them if you want to borrow them. But I got them from 1940. I wanted to see what the amputations looked like and what the prosthetic devices looked like in 1945, so I got a book on prosthetic devices. You can get all these online. Anything you want, you could get, but I had to get them from then – 1940s books. And I was, of course, as fascinated as I was when I was studying gloves for American Pastoral. So it was less... less like research and more like studying.


The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth 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: American Pastoral, The Plot Against America, Cousin Alvin

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013