by Philip Roth
In the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark," a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of this New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching book. Nemesis takes place during the wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and details the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.
At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful 23-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war. Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment and the suffering.
Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children’s summer camp in the Poconos, Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic.