Requiem for Harlem
An elegy for anguished youth, REQUIEM FOR HARLEM begins in gluttony and dyspepsia, wallows in revulsion, and concludes with the prospect of redemption. The opening pages recount Ira Stigman’s arduous trek from Harlem, in upper Manhattan, all the way down to Greenwich Village, near the lower tip of the borough. When he arrives at the apartment of his mentor Edith Welles, a professor at New York University, she is occupied with another man, and Ira returns to his family up on East 119th Street. However, in the final pages of REQUIEM FOR HARLEM, he again makes his way to Edith’s house, as her lover, to stay.
Both the twenty-one-year-old Ira, a senior at City College of New York, and the octogenarian author summoning up remembrances of sordid things past are burdened by the guilt of continuing incest with his sixteen-year-old cousin Stella. So enslaved is the younger Ira to his squalid pleasures that to pursue them he risks a scandalous pregnancy as well as serious bodily harm.
With a narrower palette of character and incident than the earlier volumes, REQUIEM FOR HARLEM offers an excruciating focus on Ira’s desperate struggle to come of age by breaking free of the toxic snares of family. For the ailing, aging Roth and his fictional alter ego daring to divulge dark secrets of his youth, the novel is the redeeming legacy of a troubled man who was touched by “that unique, unutterable afflatus of creativity,” not just once.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCIV, January 1, 1998, p. 744.
Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, January 1, 1998, p. 18.
Library Journal. CXXIII, February 15, 1998, p. 172.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, April 5, 1998, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 2, 1998, p. 81.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, March 15, 1998, p. 1.