Englischsprachige Literatur

Roth Philip

The Human Stain

Vintage Random Hause, London 2001


I read that Roth was born in 1933, so he was 67 when he wrote this novel. He also tells that in the background story, where an aging author, Mr Zuckerman, becomes friendly with a 71-year-old neighbour, Coleman Silk, who urges him to write his life story, as he thinks himself terribly wronged. Coleman has just confessed to Zuckerman, that he has a mistress, half his age, a cleaning woman at the college that was Colemanīs workplace for more than 40 years. He also confides that only by using Viagra is he able to satisfy his young lover.

 Zuckerman on the other hand seems to tap vitality from his new friend, as he is impotent and incontinent after a prostate operation. By far the best scene of this novel is one of their first meetings, when Coleman plays his favourite music and both old men dance to it together.

When reading on, I get the feeling, Roth lives out his fantasies by recording this Professor Silkīs life story. Silk has a grotesque secret, which is hard to believe. He is in fact a white black and has managed to keep this secret from his wife and four children.To surpass everything, he pretends to be a Jew  to be able to marry his Jewish wife. - Isnīt that the “Medicus”-story by Noah Gordon? - Silk has also managed to become a renowned professor of the classics at a just as renowned college. But, highly ironic, he calls two coloured students “spooks” and has to leave his college in disgrace.

After he and his lover are killed in a car accident, Zuckerman feels the urge to put Silk right by writing the story of his life. This is all complicated enough, but Roth makes things even more complicated by rambling on and on, whenever a new side aspect comes to his digressing mind. He just canīt stick to a simple sentence, but he has to twist and turn and say everything again in so many words. It gets really boring and the plot gets more and more out of hand and focus: “People... repeat the story - on the phone, in the street, in the cafeteria, in the classroom. They repeat it at home to their husbands and wifes.” (p. 290) Thatīs exactly, what Roth does.