‘Nemesis’ by Philip Roth is a short and all consuming novel about the summer of 1944 in New York when an outbreak of polio strikes. Given the recent pandemic this is a ‘dare you’ to read novel that looks beyond the disease. Written by the award winning author Philip Roth in 2010 (recently deceased, 2018) 'Nemesis' is studied by schools as a modern classic and is a powerful and profound read that will shake up your book club.
‘Nemesis’ opens on a sweltering hot day in Newark, in the grip of a terrifying epidemic. The reader is introduced to Bucky Cantor, a young fit playground director at a Jewish school who is proud of his duties and charge of children but equally embarrassed by his poor eye sight that has excluded him from serving in the war alongside his friends. Bucky lives and works in a tightly knit community and the reader follows events as the impact of polio begins to affect those around him. We are quickly drawn into Bucky’s story who becomes caught up with the unexpected consequences and responsibilities of his playground duties. As polio begins to take a grip, Bucky’s love interest, Marcia, beckons him to join her at her polio-free summer camp to escape. Bucky also faces a spiritual crisis, asking himself why God would allow innocent children to be maimed and die of polio. The story revolves around Bucky’s responsibilities, as he sees it, becomes greater - is this hubris or nemesis?
The Den enjoyed the pace and character development which were clearly defined with the author’s own voice setting the tone, questioning their actions and thoughts. Roth fans will not be disappointed with ‘Nemesis’ and if it is your first Roth novel we invite you to try his Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘The Human Stain’ next - reviewed in the Den library.