Philip Roth, giant of American literature, dies aged 85

Cornelia Mascio
Mag 23, 2018

Roth's biographer Blake Bailey, who confirmed his death to NPR, says the author was surrounded by friends and family.

His work often blurred the lines between lived and imagined experience, with characters sometimes named after the author or those close to him and alter-ego narrators, like Nathan Zuckerman, reappearing across his many novels.

He said he reached a turning point when he realised he could use his own world as literary raw material, be it his upbringing or the setting of his New Jersey home town. "He was a truth teller", Thurman said.

"It's not a question that interests me".

Roth retired from writing in 2012, but by no means fell into obscurity-indeed, his seemingly prescient imaginations of American politics only gained traction with the advent of Donald Trump's administration, particularly his 2004 novel The Plot Against America, which tells the story of aviator and Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh's victory against Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential elections.

Roth never won the Nobel Prize, but was awarded almost every other accolade going - including the Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker prize for global achievement. He was also the recipient of three PEN/Faulkner Awards and the Man Booker International Prize.

In 2010, in Nemesis, he subjected his native New Jersey to a polio epidemic. Two years later, he stunned the literary world with the announcement that he would no longer write fiction.

A prolific and controversial writer, Roth was a dominant force in American literature throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Actor Michael McKean (Better Call Saul) has also paid tribute to Roth, writing "RIP Philip Roth".

"I had reached the end. There was nothing more for me to write about", he told the BBC in 2014. "I set out upon the great task of doing nothing".

"I'm very pleased that I'm still alive".

Roth's wars also originated from within. "There's nothing I can do about that, there's nothing to be done".

Author Philip Roth poses in New York, Sept. 15, 2010.

While Roth's work first appeared in print in the Chicago Review, his first published book-the 1959 novella and short-story collection Goodbye, Columbus-was the result of a Houghton Mifflin Fellowship.

He wrote more than 30 books, including the 1991 memoir Patrimony, which examined his complex relationship with his father and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

That controversy was as nothing to the storm that swirled around Portnoy's Complaint in 1969, a monologue supposedly delivered to his psychoanalyst by a "lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor". In an interview with the New York Times (paywall) earlier this year, Roth denied the parallels between Lindbergh and Trump due to their "difference in stature".

Visitors in his final days came from all walks of life, from writers and lifelong friends to people he helped and inspired along the way.

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