Henry Roth Achievements
With Call It Sleep, Henry Roth created a masterpiece of American Jewish fiction and a classic novel of immigration, one that brilliantly adapts the insights associated with Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the techniques associated with Irish writer James Joyce in order to recount the traumatic experiences of an impressionable young foreigner in New York City. However, it was not until thirty years after its publication that the book began to be widely read, studied, and admired. Discouraged by neglect of his first novel, Roth abandoned the literary life and did not return to writing novels until a prodigious burst of creativity in his final years yielded 3,200 manuscript pages of disturbing autobiographical fiction, the tetralogy titled Mercy of a Rude Stream, half of which appeared after the author’s death at the age of eighty-nine. The sixty-year gap between publication of Call It Sleep, in 1934, and A Star Shines over Mt. Morris Park, the first volume of the tetralogy, in 1994, represents the most remarkable instance in American literary history of writer’s block and late artistic renewal.
Henry Roth Bibliography
Adams, Stephen J. “‘The Noisiest Novel Ever Written’: The Soundscape of Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep.” Twentieth Century Literature 35 (Spring, 1989). Analyzes the power and integral role of sound in the novel.
Buelens, Gert. “The Multi-Voiced Basis of Henry Roth’s Literary Success in Call It Sleep.” In Cultural Difference and the Literary Text: Pluralism and the Limits of Authenticity in North American Literatures, edited by Winfried Siemerling and Katrin Schwenk. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996. A study of Roth’s first novel, particularly the ways in which he represents different languages and voices.
Halkin, Hillel. “Henry Roth’s Secret.” Commentary 97 (May, 1994). A study of Mercy of a Rude Stream and Roth’s homosexual experiences.
Kellman, Steven G. Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. An engaging, readable account of the writer’s life, particularly examining the long interim between Roth’s novels.
Lyons, Bonnie. Henry Roth: The Man and His Work. New York: Cooper Square, 1976. The first book-length study to address Roth’s early work. Includes an interview, some biographical information, and a detailed reading of Call It Sleep.
Sokoloff, Naomi B. Imagining the Child in Modern Jewish Fiction. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Roth’s David Schearl is linked to representations of the child by other Jewish writers, including Sholom Aleichem, Hayim Nachman Bialik, Jerzy Kosinski, Aharon Appelfeld, David Grossman, A. B. Yehoshua, and Cynthia Ozick.
Walden, Daniel, ed. Studies in American Jewish Literature 5, no. 1 (Spring, 1979). A special issue of this journal devoted to essays on Roth. Includes a bibliography and an interview.
Wirth-Nesher, Hana, ed. New Essays on “Call It Sleep.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A collection of some of the most engaging and useful analyses of Roth’s first novel.