A Pilgrimage to Philip Roth's Hometown

On 80th Birthday, Fans Tour Newark, Novels in Hand

nate lavey

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 20, 2013, issue of March 29, 2013.
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Other parts of Newark are similarly unrecognizable. Outside the Riviera Hotel, on Clinton Avenue, a passenger read a section of “The Plot Against America” in which the Roth character says that his parents spent their wedding night there. Down the block, Roth wrote, was a wealthy synagogue “built to serve the city’s Jewish rich.”

Today the Riviera Hotel is a budget extened stay hotel. Across the street is an auto parts shop and row houses missing their rows. A few minutes away is the last remaining block of Prince Street, once the heart of Jewish Newark, where you can now find a boarded up synagogue and a vast, empty, overgrown lot.

Del Tufo, however, was indomitable in her enthusiasm. “There’s a great new life on High Street,” she said as the buses rolled past a sealed-up High Street apartment building that had apparently been purchased by a private developer.

The Roth tour of Newark is conducted only on special occasions. Roth himself took it once during a reunion of his high school class. “He loved it,” Del Tufo said.

Del Tufo said her favorite Roth quote is from “Goodbye, Columbus.” She read it over the loudspeaker while the bus was pulled over in downtown Newark near Washington Park, a small triangle near the city’s lovely library. It’s Roth’s endorsement of Newark, but just barely.

“Sitting there in the park, I felt a deep knowledge of Newark, an attachment so rooted,” Del Tufo read, “that it could not help but branch out into affection.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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