Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth

Originally published: 1959

Author: Philip Roth

Published by: Vintage

Genre: Short stories

Page count: 259

Reading dates: 20-24 July 2018

Star Rating: 3/5

Philip Roth is a new author to me, chosen to read at our book club after his death earlier this year. The novella “Goodbye, Columbus” was first published in Roth’s 1959 collection, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories, which won the National Book Award.

Goodbye, Columbus is the story of Neil Klugman, a 23 year old poor librarian from Newark and Brenda Patimkin, a girl from a well off family who meet one summer at the Country Club when Neil holds her glasses so she can swim. They soon fall into an affair and this novella is a study of social class within the Jewish community, following the couple from their first meeting to their final breakup. Class issues such as race, ethnicity, religion and employment are all covered. It also covers sexuality and contraception.

I didn’t find either character particularly nice or likeable – both were quite manipulative of each other and didn’t seem to even like each other that much. Its an interesting study in classism but I didn’t love it.

The other 5 stories in the novel include:

  • The Conversion of the Jews
  • Epstein
  • Defender of the Faith
  • You Can’t Tell a Man by the Song He Sings
  • Eli, the Fanatic

I must confess to not having read them all, time is short and I have lots of other books clamouring for my attention.  I may return to them at some point but I’m not sure Philip Roth is for me.

Film adaptation:

Goodbye, Columbus

The film was released in 1969 and is a romantic comedy-drama (interesting as the book didn’t come across as either funny or romantic to me!) film starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw, directed by Larry Peerce.  The screenplay, by Arnold Schulman, won the Writers Guild of America Award.

The film was essentially MacGraw’s film debut, as she had previously had only a “bit part” in the previous year’s A Lovely Way to Die.


About the author:

Philip Roth

Philip Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, into a lower-middle-class Jewish family. He attended Rutgers University in Newark from 1950 to 1951, then transferred to Bucknell University, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laud, with a major in English, in 1954. Roth earned a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago in 1955, and from 1955 to 1956 he served in the U.S. Army, from which he was honourably discharged due to a back injury. He briefly enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English at the University of Chicago, but left in 1957 to pursue a career in writing. Roth has been married twice, to Margaret Martinson, from 1959 until her death in 1968, and then to Claire Bloom, the noted British Shakespearean actress, from 1990 until their divorce in 1994. Roth’s 1998 novel, / Married a Communist, is based on the aftermath of this messy divorce, perhaps in response to Bloom’ s 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House, which focuses on their relationship, depicting Roth in an unflattering light. He died on 22 May 2018.



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