BkFt: Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

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Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Call It Sleep was published in 1934 and was met with critical acclaim.  That it was a great literary work was accepted and he has often been compared to James Joyce.  The problem seemed to be that the public didn’t take to it.  The poor sales of Roth’s only book are largely attributed to the fact that it was published in the lowest of times of the great depression.   In Richard Severo’s article he says: Call it Sleep

“When “Call It Sleep” was first published, Lewis Gannett, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, predicted that because of the stark way the book described life on the Lower East Side, it would not be very popular. But he thought that anyone who read it would “remember it and talk about it and watch excitedly” for the author’s next book.  In fact, the book was much discussed and readers did indeed wonder what Mr. Roth would do next. But for 60 years, he wrote nothing major.”

It wasn’t until 30 years later when Call It Sleep was republished that it sold over a million copies and finally gained the attention it had always deserved.  Severo continues:

“Over the years, the critical acclaim for the book grew. Irving Howe, who reviewed the 1964 edition for The New York Times Book Review, said, “At the end of a novel like ‘Call It Sleep,’ one has lived through a completeness of rendered life, and all one need do is silently acknowledge its truth.”

There seems to be consensus that Roth’s novel was a great one.  And while he gained his glory much later it seems that people have over time really wondered about what Roth got up to in life post Call It Sleep.  Here is a description of the novel by Grossman from TIME:

New York City, 1911. A young, painfully sensitive boy named David is growing up in the grimy Jewish slums of the Lower East Side, with his unemployable, rageoholic father and his angelic, nurturing mother. Call It Sleep has the setting of a gritty, naturalistic political novel—and it works perfectly well as such—but it is at heart a profoundly interior book. Roth tirelessly and unflinchingly records the daily damage that the harshness of slum life inflicts on David’s quiveringly receptive, emotionally defenseless consciousness; as a precise chronicler of minute impressions, and of the growth of an intellectually precocious mind, Roth’s only equal is James Joyce.

Has anyone read this book that would like to share their thoughts?

All TIME 100 Novels – Call It Sleep


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