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Call It Sleep, Henry Roth (1934)

Lower East Side story

Josh Lambert
September 17, 2013

In 1926, F. Scott Fitzgerald looked around and predicted, dourly, that soon “the novel of the Jewish tenement block will be festooned with wreaths from Ulysses.” How right he was: Henry Roth took inspiration from Joyce (and Eliot), layered in detail culled from the eidetic memory of a ghetto child as well as the intense guilt of a 20-something who had spent his adolescence screwing his kid sister, and produced an intricately structured high modernist masterpiece—a book about immigration, family, sin, and redemption as lasting as anything that shikker Fitzgerald ever wrote.

Josh Lambert (@joshnlambert), a Tablet Magazine contributing editor and comedy columnist, is the academic director of the Yiddish Book Center, Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author most recently ofUnclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture.