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Completed just months before Henry Roth's death, the four-volume works of Mercy of a Rude Stream has become an epic American literary event. Here, in Requiem for Harlem, Roth tells the psychologically lacerating love story of Ira Stigman, a senior at City College, who has fallen for Edith Welles, NYU professor and muse of modern poets. Set both in the fractured world of Jewish Harlem and in the bohemian maelstrom of Greenwich Village, Requiem for Harlem provides a fitting epitaph that concludes the literary exodus that propelled Roth from alienation to artistic and personal redemption.
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It's a shame that Henry Roth died in 1995, because now readers will never know what happens to his fictional alter ego, Ira Stigman, once he leaves City College. For readers familiar with Roth's series of autobiographical novels, Requiem for Harlem is the last of four books chronicling the childhood and young adulthood of Stigman; for those who have not yet discovered Roth, consider reading the first three in the series to get a handle on the dark, complicated, and rich world Ira Stigman occupies. Set in 1920s Harlem, Roth's novels explore the life of Jewish immigrants. In earlier volumes, the reader meets Ira, his sister Minnie, his cousin Stella, and his parents. Home life for the Stigmans is hardly heartwarming: the parents are locked in a violent marriage, and the children are involved in incestuous relationships. By the time Roth and Stigman have reached the events chronicled in Requiem for Harlem, Ira and Minnie are no longer sleeping together, but Ira and Stella are.
Requiem for Harlem follows Ira through his college years and his attempts to separate from his family, his neighborhood, and his own past. His childish passions for Minnie and Stella give way to his attraction to an older woman, Professor Edith Welles--an attraction that is as complex in its own way as his earlier relationships with his sister and cousin. It's unfortunate that there will be no further volumes taking us through the rest of Ira's life, but for those who wonder what happened to him, there is the example of Henry Roth to guide us.From the Publisher:
Praise for Requiem for Harlem:
"There will surely never be another work like Mercy of a Rude Stream. Like the Ancient Mariner, Roth saw his story through." --David Mehegan, The Boston Globe
"Roth infuses his narrative voice with an astonishing tragic intensity...[His] depiction of the isolation of immigrant existence, and its perilous insularity, brings twentieth-century New York...brilliantly to life." --Paula Friedman, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"This is Roth's achievement, this double vision of the artist as both young and old man, hungry and regretful, flawed and penitent." --Allegra Goodman, The New York Times Book Review
"[Roth] elevates the mean facts of his hero's existence to the plane of classical tragedy, depicting the storm of Ira's mind...in prose that roars, roils, and foams within the confines of the page like rapids surging against a riverbank. Roth's seething re-creation of Jewish life in New York City circa 1920 in nothing less than a grappling with the elusive nature of the time and consciousness, and his quartet will be recognized as a magnificent, if troubling achievement." --Donna Seaman, Booklist
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