REQUIEM FOR HARLEM by Henry Roth
Kirkus Star

REQUIEM FOR HARLEM

Vol. IV, The Conclusion of Mercy of a Rude Stream
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The powerful conclusion to an amazing series of autobiographical novels (From Bondage, 1996, etc.), written in old age and completed shortly before the author's death in 1995. As in the three previous installments, the story of the young manhood of Ira Stigman, Roth's identifiable alter ego, is told from two perspectives: as events occur, in and near East Harlem's Jewish neighborhood in the 1920s, and in retrospect (as italicized interludes), by the elderly Ira looking backward and holding "conversations" with his computer (mockingly nicknamed "Ecclesias"). The earlier year is 1927, and Ira, a 21-year-old student at CCNY, remains absorbed in a respectful and loving relationship with his literature teacher and mentor Edith Welles (obviously modeled on leftish intellectual Eda Lou Walton) and also racked with guilt over a past incestuous liaison with his sister Minnie and a continuing exploitation of his "easy" younger cousin Stella. Little happens in Requiem for Harlem. Edith reveals that she's pregnant by her married lover, and Ira dutifully tends to her during the trauma following her abortion. Stella confides that she's "four days overdue," but when a relieved Ira learns she's not pregnant after all, he takes shameful advantage of her again, in the balcony of a movie theater (in a remarkably tense and erotic scene). And Ira finds himself caught up in the abusive and painfully comic quarrels of his parents, Leah and Chaim, a pair of Olympian kvetchers whose furious incompatibility contrasts strikingly with Ira's yearning to lose himself in the elevated and consolatory pages of his beloved Milton. This brilliantly talky story concludes with Ira's escape from home, possessed by what he persuades himself is "a vibrant new vision . . . of liberation, of independence." An editorial endnote promises two more novels, different in style and spirit, that will carry Ira's story forward and will be published "eventually." Whatever more we're fated to learn of Ira Stigman and Henry Roth, in finished form or not, will be well worth waiting for.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-16980-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998




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