Patrimony relates the final illness and death of Philip Roth's father, Herman Roth. It begins as a misdiagnosis of Bell's palsy, which is eventually diagnosed as a brain tumor. Further tests reveal that it is cancer, operable only with great effort and little promise of cure or even significant palliation. The family (including Herman) decides against surgery and remains in close contact with him until his death.

Roth recounts his father's increasing weakness and helplessness, his own emergency quintuple bypass surgery, and his dreams of his father speaking to him from beyond the grave. Writing this book, he concludes, is the natural and necessary process in bearing witness to his father's life and death.


Philip Roth's experience is probably similar to that of many children of elderly parents, but he brings to that experience the description, characterization, and analysis of an accomplished writer. This story incorporates memories of the family's past but it tends to stay mainly focused on the events of Herman Roth's ailing and death.

Philip Roth recounts the tenacity with which Herman faces his diagnosis (when his family eventually tells him how seriously ill he is), the dignity with which he faces the physical humiliations of a failing body, the frustrations as well as the rewards of a relationship with Herman. As with most "biographies" of a family member's death, the book is more autobiographical of Philip Roth's experience of his father's death, but it is understandable as the author becomes more and more intimately involved in his father's living and dying.


Patrimony won The National Book Critics Circle Award.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



Page Count