Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 1998Philip Roth presents a vivid portrait of an innocent man being swept away by a current of conflict and violence in his own backyard - a story that is as much about loving America as it is hating it. Seymour "Swede" Levov, a legendary high school athlete, a devoted family man, a hard worker, and the prosperous heir of his father's Newark glove factory comes of age in thriving, triumphant postwar America. But everything he loves is lost when the country begins to run amok in the turbulent 1960s. Not even a most private, well-intentioned citizen, it seems, gets to sidestep the sweep of history. American Pastoral is the story of a fortunate American's rise and fall ... a strong, confident man, a master of social equilibrium, overwhelmed by the forces of social disorder. For the Swede is not allowed to stay forever blissful living out life in rural Old Rimrock in his 170 year-old stone farmhouse with his pretty wife (his college sweetheart and Miss New Jersey of 1949) and his lively albeit precocious daughter, the apple of his eye ... that is until she grows up to become a revolutionary terrorist.
©1997 Philip Roth (P)1997 by Dove Audio, (P) 2014 by Phoenix Books
Audie Award Winner, Best Solo Narration by a Male, 1998
"One of Roth's most powerful novels ever...moving, generous and ambitious...a fiercely affecting work of art." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
"Dazzling...a wrenching, compassionate, intelligent novel...gorgeous." (Boston Globe)
"At once expansive and painstakingly detailed.... The pages of American Pastoral crackle with the electricity and zest of a first-rate mind at work." (San Francisco Chronicle)
A fabulous work of American lit. It fits perfectly in the canon of Steinbeck, McCullers, Fitzgerald, even Hemingway. The themes are familiar and welcoming. Here we have the great obsession, which is becoming increasingly British too, more's the pity, with living a comfortable life, materially replete, but at the same time, anaesthetised, numb to reality. This principle is personified as Seymour 'Swede' Levov, whose calm, laid-back, Johnny Appleseed approach to life is belied by those who share his world. The Swede is like an old cart horse who plods unknowingly along while the world beneath the surface becomes increasingly complex and angst ridden. He is a nexus of tranquillity at the heart of a storm of repressed rage.
Roth writes brilliantly, and nowhere is this more evident than in his handling of dialogue. The natural and fluid expression of thought and feeling is so accomplished. Whole worlds are contained in the lightest exchange. At the heart of this novel is the chimera of the American Dream. It is that trick of the mind that can only be maintained at the cost of blindness to the suffering of others, as much in the small world of family as the larger, more complex, but ultimately equally reactive world of politics and social change. The Swede's gradual and painful awakening is America's too. Herein is the brilliance of the novel, because the Swede is America. He does everything possible to fit, everything within the scope of his prodigious powers of adaptation, to look the part, but it is at the cost of everything authentic and meaningful in his life. Of course this allegory is true for us all, whether we are American or not, so perhaps we should talk here about Westernism, rather than Americanism. The Western Dream has a price, but we do not see it. And when we have seen it, it is already too late because everything we have 'won' has already been tainted by it.
That's hard to isolate, because it is not a novel of "scenes" but rather a gradual and sublime unfoldment. It is a process. We are awakened to reality through the eyes of the Swede.
Not possible. It requires a thoughtful approach. It is at one level a straightforward and intriguing story, but on another level it is a meditation.
I loved this novel and will be reading more Philip Roth as a result.
This is genius. The conversations, the thought processes, the characters, the evolution of the story, the construction are all brilliant. I had never read Philip Roth - seems incredible now I have listened to this. The reading is excellent.
The book is a modern classic. This deeply engaging story of an enviously handsome man, married to a former beauty queen whose perfect life catastrophically disintegrates. The catalyst for this destruction is America's involvement in the Vietnam war. Sides are taken, but in this case both sides are against the war. While comfortable liberals write letters others favour more radical action that wants to go further and tear down the fabric of American society. There are clashes too between religious traditions, cultures and generations all set against to polite and reasonable central character.
The reading by Ron Silver is masterful. This assured narration puts the listener instantly at ease. No accents, no character voices, just the story as written. Perfection.
Making the reader care more about the story's themes. The set up was not such that you wanted to devote your emotion or involvement to what transpired, whether the Swede, glove making (deeply dull) or yet another tale of immigrants striving to attain the dream. the book really had nothing to add on the latter point.
Did not seem original. Run of the mill family history / angst tale
Someone a little younger with clearer diction.
Ron Silver (RIP) engaged me immediately with his softly spoken and beautifully paced narration. As Roth reveals how personal, political and religious differences unravel a family's American dream, he points to the hollowness of that dream. A decent book whose only blemish (for me) are the long, arid stretches of micro-detail concerning the manufacturing of gloves.
How can something so perfect go so perfectly wrong? How can an admirer torture her idol so badly? Where does the extremes come from? I don't know but Roth has me still thinking about it.
What a book! Expertly narrated and beautifully written. A story that sticks with the reader long after the recording ends. Filled with raw human emotion that leaves the reader feeling they understand these characters and their lives inside out. A keeper that I can whole heartedly recommend if you want to be captivated and swept up in a story that is difficult to put down. One of the rare times that I carried my iPod around with me as I did my chores so I could keep listening. Just plain terrific storytelling!
I usually don't read fiction, but this is one of the best audio books I've ever experienced of any genre. You will quickly see why Roth is considered one of the greatest American writers of the last fifty years and the naration only adds to the experience. Some books hold my attention better on audio and some on the printed page. This is a masterpiece of both audio and the written word. It will hold your attention from beginning to end.
I miss stories this well told, characters this well drawn, human-frailty this deeply felt.
But what elevated this book as an audio offering was the reading of Ron Silver. After having so many books ruined by utterly tone-deaf readings, it was a pleasure to finally encounter a reader that seemed to really understand what the book required. It is a hell of a performance. Other authors should be so lucky.
"ON MY TOP TEN BEST READS LIST"
This is one of THE best books I have ever encountered! These Roth characters are even more flawed, more human, than in his previous novels. The story is both broad, in the number of decades it covers, and deep, in its microscopic look at the impact of events on one man's life. Roth demonstrates with vigor and mastery the differences between generations, and the pain we each feel in our inability to grasp what people of a different age find important. The writing, as always, is lyrical and wandering, which considering the Jewish culture he writes about, is fitting, funny, and stinging. The narrator, Ron Silver, brings the Jewish angst to life well with his inflections.
I have already listened to passages over again, which after 14 plus hours says something about the strength of the descriptive passages, dialogue and ideas presented. And I will listen to this book again. It is a keeper. Although I never did anything quite as extreme as the daughter, Merry, this novel gave me a taste of what went through my parent's minds when I was in high school and college, pursuing passions of my own generation. An incredible read!
This is the 10th or 12th audiobook to which I've listened on Audible.com, and far and above the rest of them (most of which are more "popular" or "populist" titles) this one is relentless. It's both impossible to listen to, and impossible to put down.
It's not a novel of plot, though there is one, and it's not a novel of characters, though there are many of them and they are very well drawn. Rather, it's a novel of images, and a novel of feelings, and a novel of writing. It's the most well written of the novels to which I've listened, especially since I find that I enjoy the languid descriptions and sections of prose that Roth uses. It's a story of what happens when an original sinner interacts with humans of all ilks, angels and demons alike. It's a story of nature (of the human kind) and nurture (of the human kind) and interactions (of the human kind) and above all, it's the story of people.
"Fascinating and Insightful"
Roth caught the essence of American cultural history over the last century and also the central dynamics of family psychology -- a particularly insightful look at the difference between the surface and the inside of people. It has a Jewish coloring -- but is not a Jewish book. Ron Silver does an absolutely great job with Jewish inflection and self-reflection. I found myself frequently telling others about the ideas and insights in this book.
"The Best Narration"
Ron Silver is brilliant. His accents, phrasing, and timing give the story an added drama that must be exactly what Phillip Roth imagined. This is the best narration of any audiobook I have ever read.
While I am not unsympathetic to cydscott's harsh but incisive observations (and indeed I urge you to read his/her review for balance), I experienced the book very differently. Contrary to the impression that the above mentioned review conveys, American Pastoral is not simply about the philosophical musings of an amateur psychoanalyst and unprogressive biographer. True it is that some of those musings can be a bit annoying, but they do serve a purpose in the story: we are presented with an unreliable narrator, one who stumbles rather badly in trying to make sense of the story of his subject, both adding to the sensation of mystery that a stranger's life can have upon us, and reminding us of the clumsiness with which we attempt to understand one another.
But perhaps the most memorable quality of American Pastoral for me as a reader is the intense tenderness with which Roth views some of his characters. (I do agree, however, with cydscott's complaint--if I understand it correctly--that women characters are portrayed in a more troubling way.) Whatever one may think of some of the narrator's fabrications, the story is in the end remarkably moving, and it chronicles the terrifying reverberations of a complicated moment in American History in the life of an ordinary American family.
"One of the best -- do not miss"
First, the reader is excellent. But he is reading a masterpiece. American Pastoral brilliant. Through the eyes of one family and the narrator, Roth captures the essence of the changes and turmoil that shook the country in the 60s and 70s. The narrative technique, the narrative itself, the dialogue, so many turns of phrase, really deliver a powerful emotional message. I don't know whether i would have enjoyed it as much without the wonderful narrator. Even though I had already listened to it, I chose it as a book for a long car trip and my husband loved it too. I liked it even more the second time. So much nuance.
"Maybe it's 'American Past Oral'"
This was a pretty lengthy book about a guy who probably deserved about two hundred words. And, I'm thinking it might be better read than listened to.
Mr. Silver fit the character and time period just fine.
Depends on who plays The Swede. I felt like Mr. Roth envisioned Kirk Douglas in that role. Alas, too late for Kirk.
The book seemed to eulogize so many aspects of American life that it was depressing, to say the least. But then, everything depresses me, so pay no attention. You might loveitloveitloveit.
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