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Henry Roth Biography

(1906–95), Call It Sleep, Shifting Landscapes, Mercy of a Rude Stream

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: M(acha)L(ouis) Rosenthal Biography to William Sansom [Norman Trevor Sansom] Biography

American author, born in Tysmenica, Austria-Hungary, educated at the City College, New York. His reputation rests on one book, Call It Sleep (1934), which was little known until the 1960s, when it was chosen as the ‘most neglected book’ of twentieth-century American literature by Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler. The target of several vigorous attacks and defences from both right and left, it concentrates on Jewish immigrant life in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of New York told from a child's perspective. Influenced by James Joyce, its stream of consciousness combines Jewish myth and urban reality, and as part of its realist strategy, the language of the novel is a fascinating blend of English narrative, Yiddish speech, and street idioms. After the Second World War, he became a water-fowl farmer and later a teacher in New England. He published no more works until Shifting Landscapes (1987), a collection of miscellaneous writings. A multi-volume series of autobiographical novels entitled Mercy of a Rude Stream began to appear in 1994.

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