Call It Sleep A Novel

Henry Roth, with an Introduction by Alfred Kazin




Trade Paperback

480 Pages



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When Henry Roth published Call It Sleep, his first novel, in 1934, it was greeted with considerable critical acclaim. But in that dark Depression year, books were hard to sell, and the novel quickly dropped out of sight, as did its twenty-eight-year-old author. Only with its paperback publication in 1964 did this novel receive the recognition it deserves—and still enjoys.

Call It Sleep, the story of David Schearl, the “dangerously imaginative” child coming of age in the slums of New York, is a novel of Jewish life full of the pain and honesty of family relationships. It holds the distinction of being the first paperback ever to receive a front-page review in The New York Times Book Review, and it proceeded to sell millions of copies both in the United States and around the world. This edition includes an Introduction by Alfred Kazin and an Afterword by Hana Wirth-Nesher.


Praise for Call It Sleep

"One of the few genuinely distinguished novels written by a twentieth-century American. The central figure is David Schearl, an overwrought, phobic, and dangerously imaginative little boy. He has come to New York with his East European Jewish parents, and now, in the years between 1911 and 1913, he is exposed, shock by shock, to the blows of slum life."—Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review

"An epic ambition that was immediately recognized . . . a classic articulation of the American immigrant experience."—The New York Times Book Review
"Roth has done for the East Side Jew what James. T. Farrell is doing for the Chicago Irish in the Studs Lonigan trilogy . . . When his characters are speaking pure Yiddish, Roth translates it into great beauty . . . The final chapters in the book have been compared to the Nighttown episodes of Joyce's Ulysses; the comparison is apt."—John Chamberlain, The New York Times
"Roth's masterpiece, Call It Sleep, was heralded by our finest critics (Irving Howe and Alfred Kazin, for example) as the greatest novel of the immigrant experience; its use of language was deemed a worthy rival to James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."—The New York Sun

"Arguably the most distinguished work of fiction ever written about immigrant life . . . Surely the most lyrically authentic novel in American literature about a young boy's coming to consciousness . . . Roth's writing—not unlike Colette's, where politics has been rendered irrelevant by an almost transcendent physicality—is rebellious, wayward, and sensually attuned to the tumultuous depths of a child's world."—Lis Harris, The New Yorker
"In 1934, Henry Roth published Call It Sleep, an autobiographical novel about immigrant Jewish life in the tenements and on the streets on New York's Lower East Side. In 1964, by which time Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow had created the category of Jewish fiction, Roth's neglected novel was rediscovered, republished, and rereviewed by Irving Howe on the front page of The New York Times Book Review as a forgotten masterpiece."—The Boston Globe
"A dense, Joycean tale of childhood in New York's Lower East Side, Call It Sleep soon found its way into dissertations, syllabi and translations. It's now recognized as a classic of 20th century American, Jewish and immigrant literatures . . . a truly great American novel."—Josh Lambert, San Francisco Chronicle
"[Call it Sleep is] a luminous portrait of Jewish immigrant life . . . one of the great novels of the 20th century."—New York Newsday

"For sheer virtuosity, Call It Sleep is hard to beat; no one has ever distilled such poetry and wit from the counterpoint between the maimed English and the subtle Yiddish of the immigrant. No one has reproduced so sensitively the terror of family life in the imagination of a child caught between two cultures."—Leslie A. Fiedler, author of The Life and Death of the Great American Novel

"There has appeared in America no novel to rival the veracity of this childhood. It is as honest as Dreiser's Dawn, but far more sensitive and ably written. It is as brilliant as Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, but with a wider scope, a richer emotion, a deeper realism."—Alfred Hayes

"Call It Sleep is a truly brilliant performance . . . The language represents the same unity of opposites; it moves back and forth effortlessly from a precise heard and rendered everyday speech, complete with oath and obscenity, to give the apocalyptic imagery of David's own thoughts. The result is to give the reader the sense of himself experiencing all the levels of a child's inner and outer world and of himself coming to accept the repulsive, the ugly, the horrifying along with the clean, the beautiful, the loving, as necessary parts of life's self-contradictory wholeness."—Walter Rideout, author of The Radical Novel in America

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Henry Roth (1906-1995) was born in the Austro- Hungarian province of Galitzia. He probably landed on Ellis Island in 1909 and began his life in New York on the Lower East Side, in the slums where Call It Sleep is set. He is the author as well of Shifting Landscapes, a collection of essays, and the Mercy of a Rude Stream tetralogy.
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  • Henry Roth, with an Introduction by Alfred Kazin

  • Henry Roth (1906-1995) was born in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galitzia. He probably landed on Ellis Island in 1909 and began his life in New York on the Lower East Side, in the slums where Call It Sleep is set. He is the author as well of Shifting Landscapes, a collection of essays, and Mercy of a Rude Stream.