'A landmark of the American literary century' Boston Globe
Sixty years after the publication of his great modernist masterpiece, Call It Sleep, Henry Roth returned with Mercy of a Rude Stream - a sequence of four internationally-acclaimed epic novels of immigrant life in early-twentieth century New York.
In Henry Roth's extraordinary novel we are introduced to Ira Stigman and his dazzlingly-evoked immigrant world of New York's Jewish Harlem. It is 1914 and the news of the outbreak of war is the first of many events to impinge on Ira's life and that of his family. Here is a boy struggling with racism, with his raging and unpredictable father, with the unsettling emergence of sexuality and with a world in the grip of momentous change.
'The literary comeback of the century' Vanity Fair
'As unquenchably vibrant with life as the immigrants whose existence it commemorates' Sunday Times
'A dynamic and moving event . . . a stirring portrait of a vanished culture . . . a poignant chapter in the life-drama of a unique American writer' Newsweek
'Although it is sixty years since a new novel by Mr Roth last hit the bookshelves, it has been worth the wait' The Economist
'Fresh and touching' Wall Street Journal
'A precision of detail which brings the sounds from the tenements, the heat of the sidewalk steaming off the pages' Sunday Express
'A meticulous evocation of a now-distant episode of the American experience' New York Times Book Review
Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels includes
1) A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park
2) A Diving Rock on the Hudson
3) From Bondage
4) Requiem for Harlem.
Henry Roth's literary reputation would be secure on the strength of his remarkable first novel, Call It Sleep , published in 1934 and but largely unknown until it appeared in paperback in 1964 and became an instant classic. Roth's silence in the intervening years has been broken only by a collection of his shorter pieces, Shifting Landscape . This novel, then, is a signal event, especially since its protagonist, Ira Stigman, is clearly the same young boy who served as Roth's fictional alter ego in the first book, and since it begins roughly where the earlier novel ended--in the teeming immigrant slums of New York City during the first decades of the 20th century, a time and place that Roth captures with pungent language and palpable immediacy. Roth's long struggle with this material is reflected in first-person passages interpolated into the narrative in which the now elderly Ira addresses his word processor (called Ecclesias), ruminates about the difficulties that stilled his pen, and makes references to an earlier version of this work, which he is rewriting as he goes along. He laments the crisis of identity, the ``loss of affirmation'' and the self-loathing that crippled his imaginative powers, events that he touches on in the third-person narrative. Again we encounter the violent, penny-pinching father, the supportive mother, the loutish relatives. Ira's memories range over family strife, his school days, the dangers of the street, the disruption of WW I, and they end--somewhat abruptly--after the book's best extended scenes, set in a fancy grocery store where the adolescent Ira works after high school. This is the most forceful part of the book, a sustained, controlled piece of writing that masterfully evokes the temper of the times--the advent of Prohibition, the casual bigotry and racism of blue-collar workers and veterans--in the process of limning a group of memorable character portraits. Since this is to be the first volume of six, the story ends ambiguously, after repeatedly hinting at but never getting to ``the disastrous impairment of the psyche'' and ``the accident . . . the terrible deformation that was its consequence.'' Thus it is reasonable to think that this novel may be more satisfying when read as part of the six-volume whole. BOMC and QPB selections.