American Novelist Philip Roth, Author Of 'Portnoy's Complaint,' Dies At 85

Author Philip Roth poses in New York

Author Philip Roth poses in New York

Philip Milton Roth was born on March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the grandson of European Jews who were part of the 19th-century wave of immigration to the United States.

Author Philip Roth, who was both hailed and derided for laying bare the neuroses and obsessions that haunted the modern Jewish-American experience, has died at the age of 85.

Roth's first book appeared in 1959. The book delineated "the conflict between traditional and contemporary morals as manifested in a young, Jewish American man's search for identity", according to The Philip Roth Society's biography of the author.

Roth's friend, Judith Thurman, told CNN he died of congestive heart failure in a New York City hospital.

Visitors in his final days came from all walks of life, from writers and lifelong friends to people he helped and inspired along the way.

He published his debut collection of short stories, "Goodbye, Columbus", at the age of 26 - a close-to-the-bone look at the materialist values of the Jewish immigrant milieu in which grew up.

President Barack Obama right presents a National Humanities Medal to novelist Philip Roth during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Pablo Martinez Monsivais  AP File

Roth published two novels in the 1960s, which he considered "apprentice work", before "Portnoy's Complaint".

His debut novel-Roth would later refer to his first two novels as "apprentice work"-Letting Go was written during the years he was married to Maggie Michaelson, and was self-proclaimed to be a serious "literary" exploration of their toxic relationship". Divided into seven sections, the work is derived from Saul Bellow and Henry James. For Roth, it was intentionally rebellious, and "an experiment in verbal exuberance". Eighty-five years is a good long life but I still gasped at seeing this news.

In an interview conducted by email with the New York Times in 2018, Roth approached his encroaching mortality with a cheerful spirit, describing ageing as "easing ever deeper daily into the redoubtable Valley of the Shadow". It's also Roth's only novel that features a female protagonist: Lucy Nelson.

Roth, whose 31 novels over a 50-year span include Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral, was known for his writings about male and Jewish identity and sexuality with a sometimes darkly humorous twist. Books such as Roth's "confessional novel" Operation Shylock (1993) also stage his auto-fictional tendencies and the character Zuckerman also seeps into his later autobiographical works including The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1998).

It's no exaggeration that Roth's American trilogy defined his career in literary prizes. Whether or when Roth would be awarded the prize was a frequent topic of discussion (paywall) among literary enthusiasts, especially as Roth entered his 80s and had seemingly won everything else, including a Pulitzer and a Man Booker International Prize. Roth's books have been popular with filmmakers: His 2000 book The Human Stain was adapted just three years later into a Robert Benton film starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman; 2008's Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley vehicle Elegy was an adaptation of Roth's 2001 novel The Dying Animal; the Al Pacino-Greta Gerwig movie The Humbling was based on Roth's 2009 book of the same name and 2016's Indignation pulled its story from Roth's 2008 novel.

He identified himself as an American writer, not a Jewish one, but for Roth the American experience and the Jewish experience were often the same.

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