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The Humbling


The writer's work: recognising the gift from the screw-up
Philip Roth Writer
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How do you know one thing goes with the other?  That's the gift... that's the gift.  I mean, and also, it may not go, one thing with the other, and that's the.. that's the screw-up. But, by and large, the power of a book lies in choosing, juxtaposing the right character with the right historical circumstances or personal circumstances, so I couldn't have Mickey Sabbath in American Pastoral. He wouldn't care if his kid blew up a building, you know. And likewise, I couldn't have Swede Levov in Sabbath's Theater; they don't... they don't… it doesn't... it can't hold it's mind, you know? And so that is the writer's work, that's the work that he or she does best.

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: Mickey Sabbath, American Pastoral, Swede Levov, Sabbath's Theater

Duration: 52 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013