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While reading American Pastoral I was reminded of when I was young I was told the tale of an old Chinese farmer. The farmer who had a son and some fine horses. The neighbours thought that he was lucky.
One day the son was out riding one of his family’s horses, he was thrown and broke his leg. The villagers thought that it was bad luck, further bad luck was considered to fall on him when the kingdom went to war and the farmer had his horses taken by the army.
The war went badly and the army rounded up the sons of the villagers, but the farmers son with a broken leg was left behind.The villagers thought that the farmer was unlucky because their sons were sure to bring home booty from the battle.
When their sons didn’t return, they thought that the farmer was lucky.
This juxtaposition of luck or fate is captured in American Pastoral by US author Philip Roth. Roth tells the story of an All-American success story, initially through the eyes of a high school reunion and then lifts the lid on all the elements that were tearing him apart from the inside. A domestic drama featuring a mentally unstable spouse and a counter-culture terrorist daughter plays out against a backdrop of globalisation shaping the US manufacturing sector, civil rights and social unrest during the latter days of the Vietnam war.The main protagonists life comes apart at the seams whilst seemingly been fine.
Roth has written a melancholy story which is strangely compelling in a similar way to Requiem for a Dream. It is an easy read that I would recommend. More book reviews here.