Five key books by Philip Roth

US novelist Philip Roth in 2011. Picture: AFP

US novelist Philip Roth in 2011. Picture: AFP

Roth’s last work of fiction is a book set amid a World War II polio epidemic in a US neighbourhood.

US writer Philip Roth, who died in New York Tuesday at the age of 85, published around 30 books, most of them novels, and many of which have marked contemporary literature.

Here is a selection of five key works.

‘Goodbye, Colombus’ (1959)

Roth’s first book, this collection of short stories about the concerns of the American Jewish diaspora — a recurring theme in later works — brought him to the attention of the literary world at the age of just 26 and established his reputation.

It earned Roth the prestigious US National Book Award for Fiction the following year and was adapted for the screen — as would many of his novels.

‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ (1969)

The sexually explicit novel — a monologue by a neurotic young man, Alexander Portnoy, recounted to his analyst — is Roth’s most well-known work and caused some outrage on its release.

However, it transcends “easy dismissals as mere literary porn”, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said in a 2009 piece on the 40th anniversary of its release, “by using sex to explore pretty much everything else: history, culture, identity, religion, politics.”

Roth’s third novel, it flew off the shelves, selling 275,000 copies in the first 48 hours of its release, but it also saw Roth criticised for propagating antisemitic cliches.

‘American Pastoral’ (1997)

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 1998 and described by some as his greatest work, the novel looks at the social and political upheaval of late 1960s America through the bewilderment and rage of an American Jewish businessman.

It “enabled me to write about the most powerful decade of my life, the 60s, and the domestic turbulence of the 60s, and I think I got a lot of that into the book,” Roth said in The Guardian in 2013.

The book formed a loose trilogy all narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, with “I Married a Communist” (1998) and “The Human Stain” (2000).

‘The Human Stain’ (2000)

Written at the time US president Bill Clinton faced impeachment amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Roth attacks political correctness through the story of a college classics professor whose life unravels when he is accused of racism but refuses to reveal a secret which could exonerate him.

 ‘Nemesis’ (2010)

Roth’s last work of fiction, the book set amid a World War II polio epidemic in a US neighbourhood, is the final in four shorter later works written in the 2000s that mark a change of style and reflect on the human condition, ageing and physical decline.

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