Narrator Nathan Zuckerman, a successful writer, has retired to the Berkshires near the small New England college of Athena, and becomes friendly with a neighbor named Coleman Silk. Silk is a retired classics professor who resigned after a campus scandal in which he was wrongly accused of racism after a chance and misunderstood remark.
As Zuckerman gets to know Silk (they're both secular Jews), it's the era of President Clinton's difficulties with Monica Lewinsky. Silk is having his own affair with an ostensibly illiterate 34-year-old cleaning woman, Faunia Farley, who is separated from her Vietnam veteran husband Lester. He is stalking Faunia and Coleman, with results that could be fatal.
But no one in this story is quite what he or she seems. Roth's alter ego Zuckerman tries to unravel the secrets and lies of the various other characters' lives -- including the young French feminist professor who primarily hounded Coleman out of his job.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Coleman Silk is a 71 year-old professor of English who resigned after being accused of racism, because of an inadvertant use of the word "spooks", in a lecture at a small New England College.
He falls in love with a young female janitor at the college, who is stalked by her vietnam-vet former husband who caused her two children to be burned in a fire.
Coleman is hiding a secret of his own; he "passed" from being a light "colored" man in the fifties, to becoming a white WWII vet studying at NYU. He marries a white woman and fathers four children who bare no trace of his origins.
The "human stain" is described in the book as"..an imprint..impurity, cruelty, abuse, error..It's in everyone. The stain so intrinsic it doesn't require a mark."
The irony of Coleman being called a racist while he himself is a victim of discrimination runs through the novel. It is the device Roth uses to portray america from the 50's to the end of the century. On the way, he describes life as an African American, the war in Vietnam, the Clinton impeachment and corruption in academia.
This report prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson