Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Report: "Goodbye, Columbus," by Philip Roth

Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go (Library of America) Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go by Philip Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am a Philip Roth fan, although not an uncritical one.  I don't know anyone who depicts the richness of Jewish life in America with such warmth and humor but fearlessness.  I wish Amish/Mennonites had someone writing who was half as good.

This book is Roth's first one, published in 1959, and winning The National Book Award. I picked this book up at the library, thinking that Goodbye, Columbus, would probably be pretty much like the movie but not having seen the movie in many years I was ready for a repeat of the story.  I won't say the book is nothing like the movie, but significant details are changed.  In the book, the young man doesn't have an affair with the mother -- they never can stand each other, and he doesn't get the advice at the end to go into plastics. (Later Update:  As Anonymous Wendy points out below, I confused Goodbye, Columbus with The Graduate, which has nothing to do with Philip Roth. The only similarity is that Richard Benjamin kind of looks like Dustin Hoffman.)

The other five short stories in the book are the equal of or better than Goodbye, Columbus.  The Conversion of the Jews, is about a young boy who questions Jewish dogma, arguing that if God is all-powerful there could have been a virgin birth as preached by some Christians.  He gets in trouble with the rabbi and winds up forcing the conversion of his entire synagogue to Christianity.  Many Jewish Americans were highly offended by the story, while critics loved it.

The other stories in the book are Defender of the Faith,  Epstein, You Can't Tell A Man By The Song He Sings, and Eli, The Fanatic.  I won't take the time to detail all of them, but generally they follow the same themes as the first two I have mentioned.

If your only knowledge of Philip Roth is the scandal caused by Portnoy's Complaint, when it was published (it wouldn't raise many eyebrows now,) then you owe it to yourself to read some of his other works.  You will feel enriched.


Anonymous said...


The movie you're thinking of is The Graduate--re. the affair with the mother, the 'plastics'. Nothing to do with Roth, alas. They made a movie of Goodbye Columbus, w Richard Benjamin.
Haven't seen it; I believe Roth hated it, as he does most movies made from his books.

Crockhead said...

You are so right, Wendy. I'm embarrassed. That's when happens when you get old. Everything seems to run together. I am going to correct the post, but I will leave your comment up as penance.

A Knutson said...

I couldn't agree with you more about the lack of an authentic Mennonite/Amish voice in the literary realm. We have produced some decent poets (I've enjoyed Julia Kasdorf's early poetry, and poetry by Todd Davis), but not much in the way of novelists or (interesting non-historic) non-fiction writers. I've read plenty of writing by Mennonites that I'm luke-warm about or outright disgusted with (the latest would be Mennonite in a Little Black Dress), but nothing with the insight, humor, and authentic voice that Philip Roth brings.

Crockhead said...

I'm a big fan of Julia Kasdorf. I don't think I know Todd Davis. Have you read "Ben's Wayne?" I do think Levi Miller did a good job with that book. I particularly thought it had an authentic voice. But as far as I know, that's it from him as far as fiction goes.

rdl said...

i need to read him and i think you should think about writing that mennonite/amish book!