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Patrimony: A True Story – Philip Roth



Posted May 8, 2016 by

Patrimony: A True Story – Philip Roth – 1991

Posted by Andre Gerard

While Patrimony’s title hints at a postmodern game, there is nothing playful about the clear-eyed, plain-spoken integrity with which Roth observes his father’s dying and remembers his father’s life. The father lives on in the “modest no-frills style,” and the book is remarkable as a strong tribute paid by a strong son to a strong father. Despite simplicity of style, Patrimony is an epic, with Roth as a Hercules labouring on his father’s behalf. In fierce, moving, often comic vignettes he takes on a ghoulish, hate-filled neighbour, a psychotic cab driver, denial of anti-Semitism by Metropolitan Life, a pornographic Holocaust survivor, a quintuple bypass, his father’s shit, and, repeatedly, his father himself. In a previous book, The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography, Roth had said of his father that “narrative is the form his knowledge takes.” In Patrimony: A True Story, he links his father’s narrative gifts to memory: “You mustn’t forget anything–that’s the inscription on his coat of arms. To be alive, to him, is to be made of memory–to him if a man’s not made of memory, he’s made of nothing.” Memory and narrative, along with the notion of “nothing less or more than lived reality” are Roth’s patrimony… a patrimony which he transmutes into this profound and heartfelt testament. Book, son and father merge into “the vernacular, unpoetic and expressive and pointblank, with all the vernacular’s glaring limitations, and all its durable force.”


Roth1937 This photograph of Herman,
Sandy, and Philip at Bradley
Beach in 1937 was on the front
cover of Patrimony.








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