Book Review: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

March 19, 2024


American Pastoral by Philip Roth is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tackling the American Dream. Mr. Roth is one of the most famous contemporary American writers, earning and reciving multiple national and international awards.

Book Review: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
My rating for American Pastoral – 5
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This is a slow, thought-provoking book that is worth the effort but difficult to start. Frankly, if I was intimately familiar with the New Jersey scenery I might have had to put it down and read another book before continuing.

After having about a week to think about it, I agree that American Pastoral by Philip Roth is a great American novel. the author has a keen insight into the American Dream, what it masks, and how it so quickly falls apart.

A slow read, but full of discussion about dreams, success, and the layers of truth we hide. The novel is also about America, and the idyllic image presented versus the struggles of everyday life. Mr. Roth peels the layers of a seemingly idyllic American family until the truth comes out and the protagonist realizes they are just as bad, or worse, than everyone else.

One of the reasons the book seems slow is because Philip Roth doesn’t spare the reader the difficult moments, or spoon-feed us what he wants us to get out of this book. We witness the uncomfortable moments, anguish, screaming, and neurotics of the characters.

The big question at the end, for me, was whether or not Swede, the protagonist evolved. Did he become a better human being, or just better at repressing all that has happened, and burying his findings?

The author looks at different aspects of society, and the people living in it, ruminates on them, and then reexamines his findings to shed a new light on them. A different, and cynical, take on America and its promises.


Seymour Irving “Swede” Levov is the son of a successful Jewish businessman lining in 1930s Newark, NJ. Swede has won the genetic lottery in brains, looks, and athleticism. After joining the Marines during World War II, Swede marries Dawn Dwyer, former Miss New Jersey from Elizabeth, NJ.

Swede creates the perfect American life until his daughter, Merry, bombs a post office and kills a man to protest the Vietnam War. Slowly the masks come off and Swede realizes that there is darkness hidden under everyone’s veneer of respectability they project.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free from my local Little Free Library
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

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