Call It Sleep

Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1994.

Reason read: The Yom Kippur War in October.

[For my own state of mind I really should ban reading overly sad books with traumatic endings.] Told from the perspective of six year old David Schearl, Call It Sleep relates the hardships of immigrant life in turn of the century gritty New York City. In the prologue, David and his mother arrive from Austria to join her abusive and angry husband. This is the of the few times the narrative is outside little six year old David’s head. The majority of the story is a stream of consciousness, skillfully painting a portrait of inner city life from a child’s point of view.
As an aside, in the beginning I questioned why David’s father would abhor David to the point of criminal abuse. It took awhile to figure out why.
But, back to little David. His young life is filled with fear. He is overwhelmed by language differences between Yiddish and English, overly sensitive to the actions of his peers, clings to his mother with Freudian zeal. I found him to be a really hopeless child and my heart bled for him. While most of the story is bleak, there is the tiniest ray of hope at the end. The pessimists in the crowd might have a negative explanation for what David’s father does, but I saw it as a small gesture of asking for forgiveness.
As another aside, Roth’s interpretation of the Jewish Austrian dialect was, at times, difficult to hear in my hear. Listening to George Guidall was much easier.

Quotes I liked, “Go snarl up your own wits” (p 157), “David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the sole of his shoe” (p 186), and “…clacking like nine pins before a heavy bowl of mirth they tumbled about the sidewalk” (p 292).

Author fact: Henry Roth is often confused with Philip Roth. I’m guilty of doing it a few times. The real Author Fact is that Henry Roth didn’t write another novel after Call It Sleep until he was 88 years old, sixty years after Call It Sleep was first published.

Book trivia: Call It Sleep was Henry Roth’s first novel, written when he was under thirty.

Nancy said: Nancy simply explains a little of the plot of Call It Sleep.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133).



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