The Human Stain-Philip Roth

Human stainA very dear friend in Buenos Aires recommended this book to me and although she knows I’m more of a non-fiction person, she felt that I would enjoy reading it.  She has incredible foresight and as it turns out, I did enjoy the book and present my thoughts on it.  Race is still a very tough subject here in the United States. Stemming from out dark history with the slave trade, Civil War, Jim Crow and violent racial conflicts, the past of this nation is often regrettable but at the same time unforgettable. The children of today are born into a much different country and while discrimination still exist, society has progressed a great deal since the era of segregation.  But the stain of bias based on skin color continues to sting when applied and in this novel by Philip Roth, we see a sad and tragic story of the inner turmoil that plagued many African-Americans looking for a better quality of life in a time where almost everything worked against them.

We are introduced to the story of Coleman Silk, a dean at the fictional Athena College, who has found himself at the center of controversy over an alleged racial comment made towards to absent students.  Relinquishing his title and removing himself from public life after the fallout, Silk becomes a recluse but decides to seek out an acquaintance, Nathan Zuckerman, to have his side of the story recorded.  The retired dean has lost his way after the death of his wife Iris and having to leave the institution he loved and helped transform into the place it is today.  Find solace in the arms of a woman almost 40 years his junior and still legally married, he finds a small amount of peace in a life that isn’t the same.  But Coleman has bigger secret that almost no one close to him, outside of his family knows.   And one that if it got out, could possibly change the way almost everyone he’s eve known will view him.   And his secret, coupled with his family background, is the crucial part of the book for it explains the surrounding parts of Coleman’s life story.  We love him, we may hate him and even despise him, but Coleman, no matter how jaded or shameful he may have been at times, leaves a battered soul who has done much in his life, both good and bad.  But his past deeds and actions, are not enough to condemn him eternally and him we also see a part of ourselves.