US novelist. His first novel, Call It Sleep (1934), was rediscovered in the 1960s, when it was hailed as a classic of US literature. In the late 1970s he began work on a novel sequence under the general title of Mercy of a Rude Stream. The first volume, A Star Shines over Mt Morris Park, appeared in 1994.
Early work Born in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Roth was taken to New York when he was one year old. He studied at City College of New York.
Call it Sleep is a semi-autobiographical account of Jewish boyhood in New York's Lower East Side in the early years of the 20th century. Roth explained his 40-year silence following his first novel in terms of his inability to reconcile his desire to write with the socialist realism demanded by his adherence to communism. What little he did write in these years – short stories and articles – appeared in journals; they were published as Shifting Landscape (1987). When writers such as Philip Roth and Alfred Kazin brought Call It Sleep to light again during the 1960s, Henry Roth was given various university posts.
Later work In Mercy of a Rude Stream, he describes again a boyhood in New York, vividly and with painful honesty. Now, however, he also provides a running commentary in which he reflects both on the story being related and on the author's inability to write for 40 years, exploring deeply personal as well as political reasons. The second volume was A Diving Rock on the Hudson (1995).
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