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4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,248 ratings  ·  283 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 1st 1991)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,248 ratings  ·  283 reviews

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"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
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
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.
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
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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Apr 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essential-memoir
If you’ve only read Roth’s fiction, like I have, it’s worth checking out this moving tribute to his father Herman, who at 86 finally began to suffer from a benign brain tumor he’d been developing for years. Stylistically straightforward and pragmatically told, it’s also a portrait of Roth as a middle-aged son confronting a lifetime of feelings for a father who was charmingly cantankerous, relentlessly self-disciplined, and deeply rooted in a bygone Newark, the city his parents emigrated to from ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Patrimony is about author Philip Roth dealing with his father's debilitating and rapidly growing brain tumor. It takes away his autonomy and eventually his life. Patrimony depicts about a three year period in the late 1980's at the first onset of the tumor, which was originally misdiagnosed as Bell's Palsy, that gave his father, Hermann, partial facial paralysis to splitting headaches and loss of equilibrium.

Patrimony has what I have always called the "Titanic Effect." I'm sure it actually has
Stephen Durrant
Feb 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Philip Roth's "Patrimony" is a tribute to his father and a homage to a world that has now largely passed: the world of the first or second generation urban Jew who strove mightily to become an American, sometimes in the face of real anti-semitism. It is also a moving portrayal of a relationship between a precocious, independent son and a overbearing father who believed to the end that there was a right way and a wrong way of doing almost everything and felt compelled to correct those, such as hi ...more
I found it difficult to read this book. It brought back so many memories of my mother's last years and how painful and difficult they were for the both of us. In this book Philip Roth recounts the last years of his own father, a difficult man, writing the truth, as hard as that might be. Reading the book has helped me make peace with how I dealt with my mother's descent, putting into words the feelings I had at the time, especially at the end when I had to decide whether or not my mother should ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Philip Roth's Patrimony is a beautifully written, very moving account of the final illness and death of the author's father, Herman Roth. It's something most of us have to go through to one degree or another, and Roth's descriptions and insights are instructive. Highly recommended.

This book is filled with remarkable passages. One of my favorites comes very early on, when Roth describes seeing his father's brain scan. "...I could readily identify the tumor invading the father's brain,
Simon Cleveland, PhD
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
There is something sad, something utterly painful about book tributes to fathers. When reading Wiesel's "Night", Franzen's "My Father's Brain" or Roth's "Patrimony", one comes to grips with a difficult reality, of the unnatural heart ache and grief that accompany aging and what they do in the mean time to the father-son relationship.

"Patrimony" offers a glimpse of this aging, of the deterioration of the body. As one reads, one physically partakes into the burden of loosing a loved one, of facin
Smita Jha
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a surprisingly riveting read. The subject matter would be considered heavy since it deals with aging and mortality of a parent and the natural conflict of parent-child relationships, but somehow, it had just the right tone and I just kept turning those pages. I can't imagine writing such a bare-it-all account of my relationships with my own parents, but I think Roth succeeded both in making me understand why he needed to and making me want to keep reading. I loved this book.
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.
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An exquisitely written and heartfelt memoir by Philip Roth about his relationship with his father, particularly in the final years of his father's life. Roth has the craft to bring the reader into his experience in a way that you feel like you're in the room with them and you would absolutely make the same decisions that Mr. Roth made on his father's behalf. Such a tender portrait of a often trying, but ultimately rewarding father/son story.
May 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Roth fans
Roth has a way of looking at reality and making you face what you'd rather not. In this book, he deals with the indignities of aging, the relationship between parents and children, especially fathers and sons, and of course, death.

My takeaway from this book: life is short, no matter how long it is. If you've got your health, be grateful and do everything in your power to maintain it. Let go of life's petty annoyances and resentments and get on with the business of living.
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
An excellent and very touching memoir about the decline and death of Philip Roth's stubborn and exasperating yet charming 86 year-old father, Herman Roth. Oh what a joy it is to read a book written by an author who knows how to write a book that interests the reader from the first page to the last and does it with just plain good writing and story-telling. Philip Roth is such a writer.
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Around the Year i...: Patrimony, by Philip Roth 2 29 Mar 14, 2016 06:05AM  

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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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“We're the sons appalled by violence, with no capacity for inflicting physical pain, useless at beating and clubbing, unfit to pulverize even the most deserving enemy, though not necessarily without turbulence, temper, even ferocity. We have teeth as the cannibals do, but they are there, imbedded in our jaws, the better to help us articulate. When we lay waste, when we efface, it isn't with raging fists or ruthless schemes or insane sprawling violence but with our words, our brains, with mentality, with all the stuff that produced the poignant abyss between our fathers and us and that they themselves broke their backs to give us.” 3 likes
“But this had happened to me more than once in my life: I had refused to allow convention to determine my conduct, only to learn, after I’d gone my own way, that my bedrock feelings were sometimes more conventional than my sense of unswerving moral imperative.” 0 likes
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