Wednesday, June 2, 2021

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth: The Biography, excerpt thirteen)

from Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey:

The main model for Ira’s brother, Murray, was Roth’s freshman homeroom teacher, Dr. Robert (“Doc”) Lowenstein. During a 1955 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in Newark, Lowenstein—then serving as executive vice president of the Newark Teachers Union—invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than discuss his former membership in the Communist party. “How can you be paid by the taxpayers’ money when you are obligated by your damnable Communist oath to teach the Soviet line?” Representative Clyde Doyle berated him. Lowenstein lost his job for six years, until he was vindicated and reinstated after two appeals to the New Jersey Supreme Court; when he was first fired, though, the Newark Evening News printed angry letter from readers demanding the resignation of four Board of Education members who’d dated to defend Lowenstein. Philip Roth, a year out of Bucknell, answered with a letter of his own, pointing out that “in Russia dissenters are asked to resign, and now in Newark dissenters are being asked to resign.”

Bob Lowenstein was an eighty-nine-year-old retiree living in West Orange when Roth sent a driver to pick him up and take him out to Connecticut so Roth could canvass his views on the way Newark was portrayed, before and after the riots, in a late draft of American Pastoral. The two cemented their friendship a year later, when Roth paid several visits to West Orange to discuss Lowenstein’s experiences as an ostracized teacher in the McCarthy era. Roth also had long talks with another old mentor, Irv Cohen, Cousin Florence’s husband—“a loudmouth Jew” who was tall and lanky like Abe Lincoln, the man Ira Ringold (as “Iron Rinn”) becomes famous for portraying. When Sandy read his brother’s novel, he immediately recognized the model for Eve Frame’s doomed, angry husband: “I could hear Irv’s voice loud and clear.”

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