The Human Stain: A Novel

Front Cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 10, 2000 - Fiction - 376 pages
It is 1998, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president, and in a small New England town, an aging classics professor, Coleman Silk, is forced to retire when his colleagues decree that he is a racist. The charge is a lie, but the real truth about Silk would have astonished his most virulent accuser. Coleman Silk has a secret. But it's not the secret of his affair, at seventy-one, with Faunia Farley, a woman half his age with a savagely wrecked past--a part-time farmhand and a janitor at the college where, until recently, he was the powerful dean of faculty. And it's not the secret of Coleman's alleged racism, which provoked the college witch-hunt that cost him his job and, to his mind, killed his wife. Nor is it the secret of misogyny, despite the best efforts of his ambitious young colleague, Professor Delphine Roux, to expose him as a fiend. Coleman's secret has been kept for fifty years: from his wife, his four children, his colleagues, and his friends, including the writer Nathan Zuckerman, who sets out to understand how this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, had fabricated his identity and how that cannily controlled life came unraveled. Set in 1990s America, where conflicting moralities and ideological divisions are made manifest through public denunciation and rituals of purification, The Human Stain concludes Philip Roth's eloquent trilogy of postwar American lives that are as tragically determined by the nation's fate as by the "human stain" that so ineradicably marks human nature. This harrowing, deeply compassionate, and completely absorbing novel is a magnificent successor to his Vietnam-era novel, American Pastoral, and his McCarthy-era novel, I Married a Communist.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - leforestiere - LibraryThing

Strong, intelligent man from a colored family, does not want to life as a black in the US of the 50-ies. looking nearly like a white he decides to deny his past and become a white professor at a white ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Cecrow - LibraryThing

Philip Roth is a brave author for trusting entirely to his story, relentlessly showing all of his cards at the start. There's no surprise ending here, only surprises along the way. His reveal about ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

1 Everyone Knows
1
2 Slipping the Punch
75
3 What Do You Do with the Kid Who Cant Read?
146
4 What Maniac Conceived It?
202
5 The Purifying Ritual
285
About Philip Roth
363
Back Flap
365
Back Cover
366
Spine
367
Copyright

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Page 109 - Cowards die many times before their deaths ; The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear ; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come, when it will come.
Page 244 - Faunia was telling the girl feeding the snake: we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen — there's no other way to be here.
Page 4 - America the summer of an enormous piety binge, a purity binge, when terrorism — which had replaced communism as the prevailing threat to the country's security — was succeeded by cocksucking, and a virile, youthful middle-aged president and a brash, smitten twenty-one-year-old employee carrying on in the Oval Office like two teenage kids in a parking lot revived America's oldest communal passion, historically perhaps its most treacherous and subversive pleasure: the ecstasy of sanctimony.
Page 244 - The stain that's there before its mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It's why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy of purity is appalling. It's insane. What is the quest to purify, if not more impurity.
Page 117 - Some day he'll come along, The man I love; And he'll be big and strong, The man I love; And when he comes my way, I'll do my best to make him stay.
Page 336 - Was it the social obstruction that he wished to sidestep? Was he merely being another American and, in the great frontier tradition, accepting the democratic invitation to throw your origins overboard if to do so contributes to the pursuit of happiness? Or was it more than that? Or was it less? How petty were his motives? How pathological? And suppose they were both — what of it? And suppose they weren't — what of that?
Page 110 - Not the tyranny of the we and its we-talk and everything that the we wants to pile on your head. Never for him the tyranny of the we that is dying to suck you in, the coercive, inclusive, historical, inescapable moral we with its insidious Epluribus unum.
Page 344 - To become a new being. To bifurcate. The drama that underlies America's story, the high drama that is upping and leaving — and the energy and cruelty that rapturous drive demands.

About the author (2000)

PHILIP ROTH (1933–2018) won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral in 1997. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner and Saul Bellow, among others. He twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004” and the W.H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year, making Roth the first writer in the forty-six-year history of the prize to win it twice.

In 2005 Roth became the third living American writer to have his works published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. In 2012 he won Spain’s highest honor, the Prince of Asturias Award, and in 2013 he received France’s highest honor, Commander of the Legion of Honor.

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