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Nemesis, By Philip Roth

Books Of The Year: Guilt, duty and heroism in a playground war

Nemesis is a short novel, but it's as rich and nourishing as a choice fillet steak.

Bucky Cantor is a Jewish physical instructor. He's short, but of Herculean build, and he's an expert diver and javelin thrower. His weak eyes have prevented him from following his friends to fight in the Second World War.

But Bucky has his own battle to fight; a polio epidemic is rampaging through New Jersey and it starts to strike the children in his playground with devastating effect. A poignant, humane novel about how brute bad luck can interfere with one's hopes of being a hero. The theme is reminiscent of Conrad's Lord Jim – but for me this goes deeper than Lord Jim, and is a better read too.