Call It Sleep

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth is a big book but fairly easy reading. It is about an immigrant family in New York around the turn of the last century. It focuses on the young son but the mother, father, and extended family are also important in reflecting the period and the Jewish heritage. I enjoyed reading Call It Sleep so much I searched around the State Library System and found a copy of Roth’s much later work, Mercy of a Rude Stream.

My pleasant experience reading this novel was strange for two reasons:  first, the dialogue was just what you’d expect from immigrant persons with little education tossed into the strange melting pot of America, and New York in particular, and second, this was a direct narrative without many of the rudimentary nuances of modernism. My usual fare is more involved with multi-layered narratives, time-skipping, bodily fluids, lack of punctuation, and willing dispensation of belief … but Roth made the traditional novel work for me. (There were small elements of stream-of-consciousness and similar narrative techniques but I saw them as inherent in the narrative and not chosen for their literariness).

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Too many Roths

Philip Roth is one of my go-to authors:  he is a keen observer of life (especially in and around Newark, New Jersey) and he writes good too. I know there are a couple of titles out there I have missed, but I think I have them on the shelf and it’s only a matter of time. Of course Philip Roth is one of those authors my graduate advisor warned me about … he’s still alive and as long as he is publishing, you can’t really make any general statements about his work, at least in an academic environment.

But that’s the wrong Roth. I remembered reading some fiction by an Eastern European Roth that was pretty good so I dug around in his bibliography, read one of two excellent novels (don’t miss The Radetsky March). But Joseph Roth, for all his skill in writing, is not the right Roth either. I keep seeing the title, Call It Sleep, on the Top 100 lists and I suppose the first name of the author never sunk in and I never seemed to find the book, leaving a large hole in my reading.

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