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The Human Stain
by Philip Roth

Category: Fiction / General
614 pages; ISBN: 0 7862 2964 0

Rating: 10/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Coletta Ollerer


Nathan Zuckerman, a writer, is approached by Coleman Silk, his neighbor and a college professor, and asked to ghost write a book disclosing his grievances over a conflict with the administration of Athena College where he had served on the faculty and as dean for more than three decades. The reader is carried along on a ride through the lives of Silk, his associates, his lover and his family where their personalities and motives are painstakingly examined with wonderful insight and remarkable description. Philip Roth knows people.
Nathan Zuckerman turns down Silk’s request but becomes his friend and their relationship grows. “There is something fascinating about what moral suffering can do to someone who is in no obvious way a weak or feeble person. It’s more insidious even that what physical illness can do, because there is no morphine drip or spinal block or radical surgery to alleviate it.” Ultimately Zuckerman finds himself becoming interested in writing Silk’s biography which he does after Coleman’s death. This is the story of that journey.
Coleman has a secret and the guarding of that secret drives him all his life. He is emotionally intimate with no one until he meets Faunia, a person damaged by her own misfortunate life and who Coleman decides to trust. “He (Coleman) thinks she is thinking about how long it has all gone on, the mother, the stepfather, the escape from the stepfather, the places in the South, the places in the North, the men, the beatings, the jobs, the marriage, the farm, the herd, the bankruptcy. . . .”
We come to know the people around Coleman and their perceptions of him. This is an engaging voyage into the heart and mind of a complicated human being and one that explores the impact of that life on others.


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