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An absolutely brilliant new novel by one of the world's great writers.

In 'the stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. This is the startling and surprising theme of Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely-knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children. At the centre of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful, twenty-three-year old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and a weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor's dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground - and on the everyday realities he faces - Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain. Moving between the smouldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children's summer camp high in the Poconos - whose 'mountain air was purified of all contaminants' - Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantor's passage into personal disaster and no less exact about the condition of childhood. Through this story runs the dark question that haunts all four of Roth's late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now, Nemesis: what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?


What makes Roth such an important novelist is the effortless way he brings together the trivial and the profoundly serious, and nowhere is this more in evidence than his late books


This is such an emotionally harrowing story

Daily Mail


Sunday Times

Very fine, very unsettling

Douglas Kennedy, The Times

A perfectly proportioned Greek tragedy played out against the background of the polio epidemic that swept Newark, New Jersey, during the summer of 1944

Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

Cantor is one of Roth's best creations and the atmosphere of terror is masterfully fashioned

Tibor Fischer, Sunday Telegraph

Nemesis is an artfully constructed suspenseful novel with a cunning twist

The New York Review of Books, J.M. Coetzee

Heart-wrenchingly powerful

Sunday Times

Nemesis is brief, astoundingly assured and devastating

Chris Wayell, Time Out

The "tyranny of contingency" is his theme and he pursues it with the cool, bleak brutality of a Greek tragedian

Siobhan Murphy, Metro

Roth is best known for sex and jokes, and Nemesis features neither, but it is a masterly performance none the less: an angry kaddish, or furious act of mourning, as deft and subtle in its construction as it is wrenchingly violent emotionally. Unmistakably a late work, it recalls Beethoven's Op. 127

Lewis Jones, Spectator

Roth's book has the elegance of a fable and the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama.

New Yorker

Roth has given us a novel that is as movingand surprising as it is cruel and melancholy.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman, Christmas round up

An affecting work, with a memorable twist

Daily Telegraph, Christmas round up

I admired Philip Roth's Nemesis

David Nicholls, Guardian, Christmas round up

Roth's best novel for some time.

Rose Tremain, Guardian, Christmas round up

Grave little masterpiece

David Sexton, Evening Standard, Christmas round up

A story simply told

Alan Taylor, Sunday Herald, Christmas round up

Roth is a superb narrator, and the pace and balance of this fairly short work is excellent. The Newark of 1944 as well as the idyllic nostalgic summer camp of Indian Hill is evoked with feeling and emotion

Historical Novels Review

This is Vintage Roth: the story of a good man worn down - and finally ruined - by circumstance. Everything about it is perfectly judged...the writing throughout is flawless and the ending, when it comes, is both clever and profoundly moving.


An elegiac and eloquent late work that brims with unexpected sentiment

Emma Hagestadt, Independent

It's hauntingly scary...a very well-told story

William Leith, Evening Standard

A superbly managed novel. It may not be long, but it's full, complete. Roth's ear has never been better, and there is an almost unbelievable mastery of technique in the way that the prose slips between narrative and speech. This is unputdownable, and although it is one of my jobs to show you how authors do this kind of thing, I can't here, except by invoking some kind of magical talent on Roth's part.

Nicholas Lezard, Guardian



A poignant, humane novel about how brute bad luck can interfere with one's hopes of becoming a hero. The theme is reminiscent of Lord Jim - but for me, this goes deeper than Conrad's novel and is a better read too.

Independent on Sunday

Roth's magnificent novel takes you into a city sweltering with heat and fear... Characters brim with complex believability and, from its perfect choice of narrator to its beautifully exact prose, everything seems in place but never cut and dried: quandaries reverberate around the inexorable momentum of its storyline.

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

A very well-told story

William Leith, Scotsman

Nemesis - if it's not too sinister to say so - is a breath of fresh air, because polio provides Roth with a new, outward-looking and substantial subject around which his writing can thrive; and, perhaps for this reason, the book contains many of the things that I find most exhilarating in his work


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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    December 1, 2011


    304 pages

    RRP $19.99

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  • EBook


    October 1, 2010

    Vintage Digital

    304 pages

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