The Counterlife

The Counterlife

by Philip Roth


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The Counterlife by Philip Roth

The Counterlife is about people enacting their dreams of renewal and escape, some of them going so far as to risk their lives to alter seemingly irreversible destinies. Wherever they may find themselves, the characters of The Counterlife are tempted unceasingly by the prospect of an alternative existence that can reverse their fate.

Illuminating these lives in transition and guiding us through the book's evocative landscapes, familiar and foreign, is the miind of the novelist Nathan Zuckerman. His is the skeptical, enveloping intelligence that calculates the price that's paid in the struggle to change personal fortune and reshape history, whether in a dentist's office in suburban New Jersey, or in a tradition-bound English Village in Gloucestershire, or in a church in London's West End, or in a tiny desert settlement in Israel's occupied West Bank.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679749042
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/1996
Series: Nathan Zuckerman Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 130,583
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004.” Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2018.



Date of Birth:

March 19, 1933

Place of Birth:

Newark, New Jersey


B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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The Counterlife 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The story is covered from several points of view with alternate realities as interpreted by an author. It really gets to the heart of an artist's interpretation of the world. I found this to be a good but not great novel. It is an interesting concept for a story that gets bogged down in overly pedantic self-analysis. Overall, this is a good but not great book that could have been spectacular.
lriley on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Roth is at least for me at his ingenious best in this one. The Counterlife starts off with Nathan Zuckerman's brother Henry (a dentist in Tampa) contemplating whether or not to have a heart operation. His medication allows him to live a symptom free existence for the forseeable future--it only has one drawback--it has left him completely impotent and it threatens the secret affair he is having with his dental assistant. From this starting point Roth through his narrator Nathan contemplates and develops through a handful of chapters several different alternative endings--working through in his trademark style the domestic to and fro antagonisms between love and family and sexual attraction outside of family, between nation and race, ideology and cultural and religious heritage bringing in and out of focus first one brother and then the other and interchanging their circumstances so that at first it is Henry who suffers and dies on the operating table, then becomiing an armed militant for a right wing would be Jewish ideologue in occupied territory on the West Bank ready to defend Zionism at any and all cost then only to find later on that Nathan is actually the one suffering the debility--having concocted the selfsame story up to that point using his brother as a foil for his own affairs--only to die as his brother has supposedly done in the first chapters of his manuscript on the same operating table and only to have the suspicious Henry uncover this deception afterwards as he ransacks the recently deceased Nathan's studio apartment. Roth shifts the circumstances back and forth between the brothers and their lovers--maybe not so coherently described here (poor reviewer that I am) however Roth is a fluid writer and a compelling thinker who dots his i's and crosses his t's. He knows how to make things work and work well. He has the ability to look into the minds and aspirations of his characters and make them real. He may be as good a dialogue writer as there is in the English language novel of today. One should not disregard also his very subtle sense of humor. Very highly recommended by the way.
tsutsik on LibraryThing 6 days ago
A book like a play, set in five acts, each containing a different mix of the same ingredients: brotherly love/hate, heartfailure, impotency, death, love, what does it mean to be a jew. Often he punctures the thin membrane between the fictious reality of the book - actually several confliction versions- and the real world of the living writer. It's a trick I usually don't like, but Roth pulls it of: the stoy flows naturally between the multiple fictious worlds of the book and reality. Pivotal sentence of the book for me: 'The treacherous imagination is everybody's maker - we are all the invention of each other, everybody a conjuration conjuring up everyone else. We are all each other's authors.' I was emotionally very moved by this book ,especially when Roth writes about the love and hate between the Brothers Henry and Nathan. As for other themes the book is also very concerned with religious extremism and hatred, especially the jewish variant (it contains a quite balanced description of a meir kahane lookalike).
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This it seems to me is one of Roth's best books.It is alive all the way. I would even want to say that his power of insight into characters and situations is so great as to make the work a ' perfection of brilliance'.But unfortunately the 'political Roth' is far too left for me. He does not understand deeply enough the meaning of Israel, especially in religious terms. His lack of Jewish education means he misses much of the meaning of Israel. Still he sees understands a lot, and when he is really into it writes more brilliantly than anyone else that I know of.