Mercy of a Rude Stream

Overview

Mercy of a Rude Stream marks the astonishing return of Henry Roth, sixty years after the publication of his classic novel Call it Sleep. A book of time, memory, and desire, this new novel is set in the New York of World War I: a colorful vibrant, carelessly brutal city where an immigrant boy, Ira Stigmanm is coming of age. Like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, Ira begins to discover the genius and the burden of his imagination, as he takes his first tentative steps toward adulthood.

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Overview

Mercy of a Rude Stream marks the astonishing return of Henry Roth, sixty years after the publication of his classic novel Call it Sleep. A book of time, memory, and desire, this new novel is set in the New York of World War I: a colorful vibrant, carelessly brutal city where an immigrant boy, Ira Stigmanm is coming of age. Like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, Ira begins to discover the genius and the burden of his imagination, as he takes his first tentative steps toward adulthood.

A contempoary of the great modernist writers, Roth is being rediscovered by a new generation of readers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Roth creates his own Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—a marvelously poetic chronicle."—Chicago Sun-Times

"An extraordinary and provocative work. . . . One of the great literary comebacks of the century."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Mr. Roth's innovative use of language. . .is both beautiful and highly realistic. . . .Although there is no style called Rothian, there should be."—New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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. Jan.
Library Journal
After nearly six decades of silence, Roth, whose only previous novel, Call It Sleep 1934, has been hailed as one of the classics of 20th-century American literature, returns with proof that his earlier effort was no fluke. In this first of a projected six volumes to fall under the general rubric ``Mercy of a Rude Stream,'' 87-year-old Roth juxtaposes two stories: A young Ira Stigman grows up in Jewish Harlem during World War I and on to 1920, when Ira turns 14; and Roth struggles to find his voice again. The theme that ultimately unites these potentially discordant elements is deracination--Ira's internal struggle to free himself from his ``Jewishness'' and Roth's realization that his own attempt to do just that resulted in his ``creative inanition.'' Because it reflects so well the struggles we all face in attempting to define who we are and where and how we fit into the bigger picture, the novel transcends both its vividly drawn, localized setting and the ethnicity of its characters. And it leaves one eagerly anticipating the next installment. Essential for academic collections and all but the smallest of public collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/93.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kirkus Reviews
The third volume in the late Roth's ongoing autobiographical cycle, Mercy of a Rude Stream, is very much of a piece with its predecessors—A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park (1994) and A Diving Rock on the Hudson (1995).

It continues the story of Roth's alter ego, Ira Stigman, now seen wrestling with his artistic and sexual demons as he struggles toward manhood in 1920s Manhattan and also, some 60 years later, as the elderly Ira labors to make sense of missed opportunities and flawed life choices, carrying on an extended, fragmented "conversation" with his computer ("Ecclesias"). This latest novel fictionalizes Roth's longtime affair with NYU teacher and poet Eda Lou Walton (here: Edith Welles), and it's drenched in the kind of self-conscious literary talk that most writers indulge in, then dispense with, in their early work (though, to be fair, Roth does communicate effectively the beady excitement felt by young intellectuals sharing a contraband copy of Joyce's Ulysses, as well as the hopeful Ira's discovery, through reading Joyce, "that it was possible to commute the dross of the mundane and the sordid into literary treasure"). There are too many lengthy disquisitions on favored writers and writing, and—conversely—a plodding recounting of Ira's peregrinations from one unfulfilling day job to another. Still, Roth writes ferocious, flinty dialogue (the scenes between Ira and his younger sister, and former lover, Minnie are charged with an unforgettable admixture of erotic heat and guilty hatred) and pulls off some remarkable technical effects in balancing the young Ira's dreams of literary accomplishment against his aged self's resigned understanding that "performance with words was the only option open to him, the only tramway out of himself."

It's odd, and sad, to realize that Roth, who died last October, may eventually be better remembered for this deeply flawed final work than for his one incontestable masterpiece: Call It Sleep (1934), the book of his youth.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312119294
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/1/1995
  • Series: Mercy of a Rude Stream Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 285
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Roth died on October 13, 1995. His extraordinary literary legacy includes the classic Call It Sleep and six volumes of Mercy of a Rude Stream, all completed before his death. A Diving Rock on the Hudson is the second volume in this series and follows A Star Shines over Mr. Morris Park, also published by Picador.

While still alive, Roth recieved two honorary doctorates, one from the University of New Mexico and one from the Hebrew Theological Institute in Cincinnati. Posthumously, he was honored by Hadassah Magazine with a special Harold U. Ribalow Prize for Distinguished Literary Achievement. He was also given a special honor by the Museum of the City of New York.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Figures
Preface
1 From Dragon to Superpower 1
2 Political Opening and Economic Reform 11
3 Regional Development: Special Economic Zones 23
4 Emerging Superpower 39
5 Growth: Past, Present and Future 57
6 Development of Internal Markets 73
7 Banking, Money, and Credit 107
8 China's Emerging Capital Market 123
9 Strategic Trade 141
10 Foreign Investment Strategy 163
11 China and the World 189
Notes 209
Index 223
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Reading Group Guide

The first installment of Mercy of a Rude Stream, called A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, concerns the adventures of a boy named Ira Stigman and his extended Jewish immigrant family. In this opening volume, set in 1920's New York, we follow Ira's psychological maturation which is burdened by not only the onset of adolescence, but also by abject poverty, the pain of life in an alien world, and a violent sexual awakening.

A Diving Rock on the Hudson, the second and the most disturbing book of the series, paints a grand panorama of New York City in the Roaring Twenties, as Ira begins his freshman year at CCNY. Yet, this colorful, absorbing world is laced with the black undercurrent of despair and with Ira's unmentionable transgression, a sin so horrible that he is doomed to near madness by the twisted urges that victimize his mind.

Completed in the last year of his life, From Bondage is perhaps Roth's most profound book in the series. Narrated partly from the perspective of the old man, Ira Stigman, there is a Tolstoyan aspect to this third volume -- that of the aged writer confronting his imminent passing as he continues to draw sustenance from the eroticized stories of his youth.

This guide is designed to help you navigate the ages of Ira Stigman, from an eight-year-old boy, wrenched from his insulated world of the Jewish Lower East Side to a young man whose only wish is to abandon his poor, immigrant roots, to the old writer who struggles to make peace with his life. This trio of books has been called by critics "one of the most remarkable literary creations of this century."

Discussion Questions:
1. The title Mercy of a Rude Steam is taken from Cardinal Woolsy's speech in Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" (which serves as the epigraph for the first book in the series). It has been observed that Henry Roth viewed mankind, and particularly himself, as a "rude stream," a metaphor for the flaws and frailties of our mortal lives. Does the elderly Ira Stigman believe or not believe in the possibility of mercy for himself, mankind and the modern Jew?

2. On the opening page of A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, Ira laments his upheaval from the all-Jewish neighborhood of his boyhood to non-Jewish Harlem. "If it had only happened a few years later. Everything else could be the same, the war, the new relatives; if only he could have had, could have lived a few more years on the Lower East Side, say until his Bar Mitzvah. Well . . . " Discuss the effects of dislocation and isolation on Ira's emotional, sexual, and Jewish development. How might Ira's life had been different had he stayed, "just a few more years" on the Lower East Side?

3. Mercy of a Rude Stream is narrated by two different and distinct voices; that of the young Ira who is immersed in the events of his life, and that of the elderly writer reflecting on the life he had led. What purpose does this literary device serve for the reader? The author?

4. The pivotal revelation of A Diving Rock on the Hudson is Ira's sexual involvement with his sister Minnie. How, if ever, does the old man, Ira come to terms with the unspeakable sin of his past? Is he ever able to explain to himself or Ecclesias "why" the transgression occurred and why for such a long period of time?

5. With the encouragement and support of Edith Welles, Ira finally begins writing his first novel. Discuss the struggle of Ira, the young writer, trying to portray the only world he knows while simultaneously trying to abandon his immigrant past for the "goyish" literary world of Greenwich Village. Discuss the presence of class struggle throughout the three volumes.

6. Why were Edith and Ira attracted to each other? What was their shared sensibility and what do we learn about Edith's past that gives us clues? Critics have often said of Roth that he relied on "strong women" in his novels. How does this observation apply to Edith? To Ira's wife, M.? To Ira's mother, Leah?

7. In From Bondage, Ira's grandfather Zaida, observing the behavior of his heedless grandson, laments the fate of America's Jews: "So at the expense of observance, they go unmolested, here in America, the Golden Land. They barter holy living for livelihood." Is this Zaida or Henry Roth himself speaking? As these three installments come to a close, has Ira bartered away his Jewishness in favor of complete assimilation or does he still hold strong to a religious and/or spiritual belief?

8. Of James Joyce, Ira says, "It was language, language that could magically transmogrify the baseness of his days and ways into precious literature -- in the highly touted Ulysses itself. It could free him from this depraved exile, from this immutable bondage." From what "bondage" is Roth alluding to in this passage and in the book's tittle? Could there be more than one meaning at wok here? How, if at all, does Ira finally release himself from bondage?

9. How will Roth compare over time with other Jewish American writers including Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer? Who is he most like? Who is he most apart from?

About the Author:
Henry Roth died on October 13, 1995, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the age of eighty-nine. Born in the village of Tysmenitz, in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galitzia, in 1906, it is most likely that Roth landed at Ellis lsland and began his life in New York in 1909. In 1914, the year in which Mercy of a Rude Stream opens, the family moved from the Lower East side to Harlem, briefly to the Jewish section on 114th Street and then to non-Jewish 119th Street.


Roth lived there until 1927, when, as a junior at City College of New York, he moved in with Eda Lou Walton, a prominent critic, poet and New York University instructor. His first novel, Call It Sleep was published in December 1934, to mixed reviews and did not become the American classic that it today until its paperback printing in 1964. Roth contracted for a second novel with the editor Maxwell Perkins, of Charles Scribner & Sons. But his growing ideological frustration and personal confusion created a profound writer's block, which lasted until 1979, when he began the first drafts of Mercy of a Rude Stream.


While still alive, Roth received two honorary doctorates, one from the University of New Mexico and one from the Hebrew Union College -- Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Posthumously, he was honored in November of 1995 with the Hadassah Harold Ribalow Lifetime Achievement Award and by the Museum of the city of New York in February of 1996. From Bondage, Volume III of Mercy of a Rude Stream was a finalist in fiction for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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