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'Indignation', 'The Humbling' and 'Nemesis'


Philip Roth Writer
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What do these books come out of? Different things… the first one, certainly Everyman, came out of experiencing the deaths of one's friends. My... my grandparents died in the '30s and '40s, my parents died in the '70s and '80s, and I thought, well, that'll be the end of it. Everybody's dead, now it's fine, you know? But lo and behold, one's friends, one's dearest friends, with whom one ate many dinners and laughed many laughs and went swimming with and walked around New York with or… and they die; and I must admit to being shocked.

And so you're shocked, and you're shocked over and over again. I remember when my father was an old man, and his brother, his younger brother died in the same year in which several of his closest friends had died and my mother had died. And when my uncle died, my father called me and said, 'Philip, I can't look into another hole in the ground again.' And this is… he was in his 80s, and he'd buried so many people; and so I said, 'I'll go as your representative, and I'll tell my cousins that I'm here for you.' I would have gone anyway, so… but I went. But I didn't know what he was talking about, then.

But I guess you reach a point where you can't look... look into another hole in the ground again. You know, you reach… it's not the first one, not the second one, but the 15th one, you know?  And so I thought I would tell a story about a man's mortality from the perch of the operating room, that is, the history of his diseases... I would tell his story through history of his diseases; and the ones as a child, the ones as a man, and then the ones that... that kill him in the end.

And... and there was a story a friend of mine had told me years ago about – he... he's dead too, so I can tell the story — and he had, he'd been having an affair, and his... he went off with his girlfriend to another city, and of course, you know, his wife was away, and she came back. And when they were going to leave that city to come to New York they were in a terrible storm, and they couldn't get out. And so he was gone – he didn't go to work, he didn't come home, and so she figured it out.

Well, that story interested me, so I gave it to the guy in... in Everyman – it happens to him. He's in Paris with his beautiful girlfriend, and he gets stuck there. And it gave me the opportunity to pretend to be the wife, the indignant wife, and I wrote a… I think I wrote a... gave her a wonderful speech, it goes on a page or so; her... her indignation is wonderful, and I generally end up at that end of the conversation, you know? So I was quite... I was quite pleased to play that role, because when you're making the speech from the point of view of righteous indignation, you're so fluent... you're so fluent. Anyway, so that was Everyman

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: Paris

Duration: 4 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013