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Philip Roth's five most important books

26 May 2018

Roth liked to play with the distinctions between fact and fiction, often writing about neurotic novelists and even naming some characters "Philip.' Yet he was frequently annoyed and amused by readers" desire to project the real Roth onto his characters.

Philip Roth, whose notorious novels about the sex drives of American men gave way to some of the most probing examinations of the American Jewish condition in the 20th and 21st centuries, has died.

1997's American Pastoral won Roth his Pulitzer, and was adapted in 2016 to the big screen by Ewan McGregor, who played a father whose daughter becomes a terrorist in the 1960s.

He was in his 20s when he won his first award and awed critics and fellow writers by producing some of his most acclaimed novels in his 60s and 70s, including The Human Stain and Sabbath's Theater, a savage narrative of lust and mortality he considered his finest work. He also was a three-time recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award. "If I'm not an American, I'm nothing", said Roth.

He first achieved fame for his 1969 novel "Portnoy's Complaint", about a horny teenager named Alexander Portnoy.

Just two years later, in 2012, Roth announced that he was retiring.

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. "The epithet American-Jewish writer has no meaning for me".

The novel's alternative American history, which imagines Franklin D. Roosevelt being defeated in 1940 by Charles Lindbergh, an aviator with pro-Nazi leanings, led some left-wing critics to draw comparisons with Mr Trump's populist sweep to power.

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Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, and was raised in the city's Weequahic neighborhood, wedged between Routes 78 and 22.

In The Plot Against America, Roth explores a political alternative history - one in which Franklin D Roosevelt is defeated by "America first" candidate Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 USA election, resulting in growing anti-Semitism and the persecution of the author's Jewish-American family.

His biographer, Blake Bailey, said the author died surrounded by "lifelong friends who loved him dearly", adding he was "a darling man and our greatest living writer".

"The death of Philip Roth marks, in its way, the end of a cultural era as definitively as the death of Pablo Picasso did in 1973", he wrote. He was a prolific and lauded writer whose novel American Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1998.

Roth's personal life was dragged into the spotlight following his messy breakup with British actress Claire Bloom, who painted a grim picture of life with her ex-husband in her 1996 memoir "Leaving a Doll's House".

The novelist struck a similar tone in an interview with The New York Times in January, calling Trump "a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies" and "devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac".

The topics Roth wrote about included the Jewish experience in America, promiscuous male sexuality, and the hypocrisy and disillusionment of American political life since the 1940s.

Philip Roth's five most important books