Backtracking to Newark in the Summer of ’44

I listened to this on audio when I was driving to Providence to do my half marathon this weekend, but I didn’t have time to review it then. This book got me through annoying traffic with little stress. I was pleased to be listening to a book about Newark while driving through it! For those of you who have not yet tried Phillip Roth, this might be a good place to start–a brief, engrossing book, free of some of the things that put readers off in some of the other novels.

NemesisNemesis by Philip Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nemesis is, at its core, the story of how we create our own reality, be it of triumph, simple pleasure, or tragedy. Events themselves do not dictate the quality of life, but require our collaboration to give them their ultimate meaning. Bucky Cantor is a young playground director in a Jewish neighborhood in the Newark of the summer of 1944. His two best friends are in the same military unit in Europe, but he has been unable to volunteer for the war because of his vision problems. Bucky is a sweet responsible guy, raised by his grandparents after his mother died in childbirth (his dad, a thief, was never in the picture), and now cares for his aging grandmother. He is a high school gym teacher and boyfriend of a beautiful, vivacious woman who is working for the summer at a camp in the Pocono Mountains. When a polio epidemic engulfs Newark, Bucky finds himself facing difficult choices–stay in the infected community, or flee to the Poconos, where the drafting of the waterfront director of the camp where his girlfriend works has created a job opening that fits him perfectly–and questions–about the nature of God and the extent of personal responsibility. Philip Roth is brilliant at creating a human drama that explores the largest human issues with precise detail and linguistic dexterity. For those put off by the sexual excess in some of Roth’s books, this novel is free of that element. It is a quick and engrossing read, which touches both heart and mind.

View all my reviews

And for those keeping score:
July to September Goals:

  • Orange July 1 2 3
  • Around the World: Africa: 1, 2 Asia 1 South America 1 2 3 4 5 6 Other countries 1 2 3 4
  • 1001 Books 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
  • Nobel: July Aug Sept
  • Pulitzer: July Aug Sept
  • Great African Reads: July Aug Sept

Yup. This book did nothing to move any of these markers. But it was a great book!


About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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2 Responses to Backtracking to Newark in the Summer of ’44

  1. vanbraman says:

    I just read my first Philip Roth last week. Operation Shylock was interesting. Sounds like this one might be a better one to read.

    • I liked Operation Shylock, but not nearly as much as several others of Roth’s books (American Pastoral, Human Stain, Nemesis–although a friend of mine whose tastes are usually really similar HATED Human Stain, go figure…)

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