Ivana's Reviews > The Human Stain

The Human Stain by Philip Roth
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's review
Dec 08, 2011

really liked it

Anyone who makes fun at academic community so brilliantly has my praise.( If anyone needs some reality check, it's that kind of snobbish professors.) Although that's not at all what the novel is about I just had to say it. Roth is so good at making fun of everything that it can be distracting. Nevertheless, there is truth in his humour- stuff that makes you think. Again not the most important aspect of novel, but something I really liked is an attractive amount of social commentary and political satire.

The narrator of the novel is a writer Nathan Zuckerman, with somewhat autobiographical elements to him, all in all a likeable character that serves as an objective narrator. I guess he is there to create some distance from the fascinating and mysterious protagonist Coleman Silk. In addition, the narrator is there to tie all the stories, sometimes functioning almost as a private detective. No one in this story is quite what he/she seems, there is always some secret to be discovered, some aspect of their personality to be revealed.

The plot is very interesting, the narrative is not chronological, there are digressions but they are meaningful for the story and just add additional interest to the plot. The idea for the novel is very original; at least I haven't come across it before.

It is very serious themes that this novel explores from the conflict between the society and the individual to the questions of race, identity, liberty and personal relationships. It seems that Roth is not at least afraid to go into the most taboo issues (child abuse, ptsp etc...) The idea that the identity of your nation or race can be a burden to you is certainly controversial yet I'm sure that many have felt it.

The characterization I really enjoyed- it is my favourite part of this book. There is not a character in this novel that is not characterized well. There is a great attention to detail to in the way characters are portrayed. Perhaps he has gone too far in some aspects with Faunia Farley. I don't mind that she is one-dimensional character, she is not. It is just that there is too much going on about her.Is it just that I cannot figure her out? It may be. At times I had the feeling he pushed some issues too far, especially with Faunia- I don't think that you should use gift and abuse in the same sentence. Roth does that or rather Silk when he says something like "It could be the gift of the abuse" - I'll not describe the entire situation now, I really don't want to ruin the plot for anyone.
On the other hand, the characterization of another female character Delphine Roux was right on- I feel a little bad because I enjoyed so much the way he ridiculed the figure of frustated feminist intellectual.
This novel is such a good example of freudian slips in language, the words he puts into characters mouths- they really make sense in the contex of the story.

All in all, in my opinion The Human Stain deserved all the awards it got and more.
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Brendan Monroe Totally agree with your review! I also felt a stab of guilt from the immense joy at felt at hating Delphine Roux. Oooh, we've really all known someone like that, haven't we?

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