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4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,737 ratings  ·  336 reviews
Patrimony, a true story, touches the emotions as strongly as anything Philip Roth has ever written. Roth watches as his eighty-six-year-old father—famous for his vigor, charm, and his repertoire of Newark recollections—battles with the brain tumor that will kill him. The son, full of love, anxiety, and dread, accompanies his father through each fearful stage of his final o ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published June 3rd 1996 by Vintage (first published January 1991)
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Average rating 4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,737 ratings  ·  336 reviews

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Michael Finocchiaro
Personally, I was a little devastated to learn of Roth's death...without a Nobel for Literature, especially. I think that based on books like Portnoy's Complaint, American Pastoral, Sabbath's Theater, The Human Stain, and this one, Patrimony, he was head and shoulders over many of his contemporaries.

Patrimony is the account of Philip Roth's accompanying his father on his deathbed. The story of their complex relationship, his father's complex personality, and the author's grasping with the death
"Even the bastards die. That's about the only good thing you can say about death--it gets the sons of bitches, too."
- Herman Roth, quoted Philip Roth, Patrimony


One of two memoirs/autobiographical works Roth completed. It seemed appropriate to start reading this on Father's Day the year Roth himself died. It was touching, beautiful. It is something as I get older I'm dealing with in my own family and at work. I have clients with tumors progressing. I have a grandmother (my last surviving grandpar
“’I must remember acurrately,’ I told myself, ‘remember everything accurately so that when he is gone, I can re-create the father who created me.’ You must not forget anything.”

This book occupies a special place in Roth's oeuvre, because it is utterly autobiographical. Of course Roth also in his other novels regularly used autobiographical elements: in his early scandal novel Portnoy's Complaint that’s obvious, his hometown Newark prominently features in various books, and in The Plot Against Am
Excellent. The writing is very flat, unadorned. This memoir's mostly the straightforward story of the author and his very colorful Jewish father. There's a special focus on the father's last days when he's battling a brain tumor, and all the decisions the family has to face given a very dire prognosis. So it's grim. If you like dark, however, this is your book. It was fascinating to me, a lover of Roth's novel American Pastoral, to learn that his father was a real raconteur with an almost eideti ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A compulsively readable, excruciating memoir, and the best how-to-be-a-son manual I've ever read.
Wayne Barrett


A touching memoir from a great American writer.

As great as the writing is, I think it will greatly depend on the experiences of the reader as to how well it will be received. Though the story is sad, it had an underlying quality of humor as it shared the quirky side of Philips Jewish father and his own Jewish heritage.

Simply put, this was Roth's account of his experience after discovering his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the ongoing fight for survival that followed, and his ulti
David Schaafsma
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: roth, auto-bio-memoir
What do I know about Philip Roth? I read passionately his early stuff, like Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint and was entertained and inspired. Terrific writer, one of the great American authors. But that was decades ago since I last read Roth… I have in a stack a trilogy I hope to read this fall, but one of my projects is to read Father/Brother stories, and this one was on my list. What a tremendous writer. The 55 year old Roth nurses his 86 year old Dad, who has a brain tumor and is fa ...more
Jul 16, 2013 rated it liked it
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2. For those who haven’t read my GR’s profile, three stars means I very much liked the book. To show how old my copy of Patrimony by Phillip Roth is, I actually turned down the corner of page 81! Something I would never, ever do to my books in my reading years after the almost 30 years since this book was published and the probable 20+ years since I read it. The inside cover reads, “Patrimony, a true story, touches the emotions as strongly as anything Phillip Roth has ever written”. I ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, zre-read
Upon the death of Philip Roth, I thought it fitting to re-read this book on the death of his father. I remember it as the best of all his books and in the re-read I was not disappointed. This book covers a lot of ground: medical issues of aging; the role reversal of father and son and Jewish-American life in 1900-1990. It is also a character study and testament to Roth’s father – for good and bad.

Roth’s attempts to help his 86 year old father will be recognizable for anyone who has had an elder
W.D. Clarke
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Emotionally speaking, this was a tough read, yet also of the compulsive, not to mention compulsory kind, especially if you have lost a parent, have aging parents, are yourself a parent, or are an aging parent. Roth's father comes across as the Ur-father, as a "take him for all in all, he is/was a man/The Man kinda guy, but also just as a lovable, loving Character, a real Mensch and a foredoomed Sisyphus. One of my favourite Roth reads for sure.
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a great perspective on the aging and death of a parent. Roth reports on all conversations with doctors and his father with detail. It feels like the reader is there at these banal appointments and drives, but the result is such a vivid account of the process of letting go and losing a parent--and what it is like to have your body go a little bit at a time and then all at once.
Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I always recommend this book to people interested in Roth, particularly those who have read Roth's novels. It takes on a subject that might cause a lesser writer to descend into sentimentality and nostalgia. But Roth's skills as a writer are on full display here, as he describes his father's life, old age, and death. We know Roth's father; many fathers in Roth's fiction are based on his real father.

Patrimony is a powerful and honest work - on par with some of Roth's better fiction.

Rachelle Urist
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
(Appeared in the Washtenaw Jewish News.)\

Since Philip Roth’s surprise announcement that he will write no more novels, he has become the focus of considerable attention. Last March, PBS broadcast a documentary of his life, including interviews with Roth, several of his friends, a few literary colleagues, and scholars. (The video is available online at: The month of the broadcast, Roth turned 80. He begins the documentary by saying: “In the coming years, I h
Brian Francis
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book primarily because it deals with the death of Roth’s father from a brain tumour. My dad died from the same.

We often bring our personal stuff to books. It’s not really fair to the books or the writers. After all, Roth isn’t writing about my father’s death, but I wanted him to. I wanted to see my experiences reflected in these pages. And while there were many scenes I could relate to (his father’s loss of vision and mobility as the tumour grows), it’s Roth’s story. And he tells it
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Terribly moving. At the end, I wept.
Alec Engerson
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s like Jewish IKIRU
May 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The story is a wonderful monument - an intimate story about a man who revives memories of the people and the world that no longer exist, and who is facing with his own mortality. The story as a story is emotional and painful to read, honesty of narrative is sometimes shocking, but Roth with his narrative style managed to portray Herman Roth as a man who was fighter with dignity and determination, and especially, as a humble man with a good heart despite his mistakes.
Vivian Valvano
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Roth's account of his beloved father's last year (he died in 1989) is poignant, heartbreaking, laden with memory, and filled with revelations and recognitions about the identities of both father and son. Pure Roth: he captures so many details, in such brilliant wording, that his memoir stands high above most others. I could have done with less detail on only one aspect of his father's medical deterioration, one lengthy description of a loss of bowel control. However, I understand why ...more
Richard Levine
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Subtitled “A True Story,” Patrimony is about Philip Roth’s father, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 86 and died a little over a year later. It is beautiful, moving, and honest. (As to the latter: I guess who really knows? All I can say is that it struck me as heartfelt and true.) Roth does a marvelous job of portraying his father warts and all, but in what comes across as a loving and respectful portrait. He sees, admires, and honors the great strength and honesty of the man – among o ...more
“You clean up your father’s shit because it has to be cleaned up, but in the aftermath of cleaning it up, everything that’s there to feel is felt as it never was before. . . . And why this was right and as it should be couldn’t have been plainer to me, now that the job was done. So that was the patrimony. And not because cleaning it up was symbolic of something else but because it wasn’t, because it was nothing less or more than the lived reality that it was...
There was my patrimony: not the mon
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I thought I couldn't have asked anything more for myself before he died - this, too, was right and as it should be. You clean up your father's shit because it has to be cleaned up... why this was right and as it should be couldn't have been plainer to me, now that the job was done. So that was the patrimony. And not because cleaning it up was symbolic of something else, but because it wasn't, because it was nothing less or more than the lived reality that it was.

There was my patrimony: not the m
Tina Schumann
I feel like I should write a fan letter to Philip Roth, even though I never do that kind of thing. He holds nothing back about his last years with his Dad and how far a son will go for his father. Roth's level of anxiety and worry over his father's declining health helped me understand that my emotional reaction to my own father's decline is normal and healthy. I care because he tried so hard to be a good Dad.
michal k-c
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
not going to try and say anything smart about this. The small bit where he talked about Primo Levi made me well up, and the ending hurt to read as much as one would expect. Roth has done what all the good ones have done before him, from Shakespeare to Balzac, and made this life a work of art, not through any airbrushed schmaltz, but thanks to his honesty.
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Patrimony” is the story of the decline of Roth’s father, yet more of the impact of this decline on Roth the son. As my own Father ages, I felt familiarity in these pages, as well as timeliness. There’s the pathos and occasional bouts of humor, but there’s an overwhelming focus on the daily details of health, the roller coaster of up and down days or hours, the worries or nightmares about whether you have done right by your father. The writing is Roth, easily readable and commonly relatable. I l ...more
Verena Wachnitz
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very moving book about the last years in the life of the author's father. The tragedy of aging, disease and death provides the backdrop in which the everlasting bond between a father and a son is redefined and solidified. This is my first Philip Roth but it will certainly not be my last...
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the more painful books I've ever read - gushes with truth about what aging is truly like, the well of suffering it contains. If someone said this was a horror novel, I wouldn't disagree.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful book. A smile and a tear.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to watch people that are close to us age and die. Don't know what more I can write here, it was touching book.
Stephanie P
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Please read this book.
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, audiobooks
Philip Roth is a great writer but he's way too misogynist for me. After I read "I Married a Communist" I decided I was done with him. But someone (I can't remember who!) recommended I read one more book of his: Patrimony. I listened to the audiobook. And since it was about the final illness and death of his father, I was able to appreciate his wonderful prose and the way he constructed the story, and not be distracted/infuriated by his portrayal of women.

This is a beautifully written memoir of R
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Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and in ...more

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