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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Call It Sleep

Over the weekend I've been racking my brain. In my last post I mentioned cornflowers. I wonder if you ever get that feeling, you know, something sparks off a dim association, really no more than a feeling, but you can't quite make the connection? I knew that I had read or seen something recently in which cornflowers play a pivotal role, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what. Try as I might I couldn't get it into  focus. Was it a film? or something on TV? or something I've read? 

And then it came to me: Henry Roth's minor masterpiece Call it Sleep. If you've read it you'll know that a painting of cornflowers has pivotal plot significance - again a symbol of longing in this case for something that is long past. I won't spoil your enjoyment by saying more.

I know of no better account of the immigrant experience, the fact that it is Jewish Lower East Side immigrant experience just adds specificity. There is some Joycean stream of consciousness which  I could take or leave and the last fifth of the book drags a bit towards a slightly contrived conclusion. But the first half is so good that it's not ridiculous to claim that Call it Sleep is one of the greatest American novels and that Henry Roth deserves to be better known over here.

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