The Sci­en­tists: A Fam­i­ly Romance

Mar­co Roth
  • Review
By – March 27, 2013

Lit­er­ary ana­lyst and crit­ic Mar­co Roth has craft­ed an insight­ful mem­oir detail­ing his years from child­hood through ear­ly adult­hood grow­ing up in an intel­lec­tu­al, non-prac­tic­ing Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1990s. Roth, Sr. con­tract­ed AIDS when the author was in grade school, and Roth, Jr.’s child­hood is dom­i­nat­ed by his father’s degen­er­a­tion and the resul­tant lack of atten­tion that his moth­er is able to give him. Emo­tion­al­ly, Roth is unable to cope with the dis­ease and the influ­ence it has on his fam­i­ly. His father fails to offer Roth sym­pa­thy or under­stand­ing, act­ing more as a strict teacher than a lov­ing con­fi­dant, plac­ing addi­tion­al pres­sure upon Roth. Fur­ther, as an only child, Roth feels remark­ably alone, an expe­ri­ence that is exac­er­bat­ed when his par­ents for­bid him from dis­cussing the sit­u­a­tion with any­one in fear of being judged. Reli­gion offers him lit­tle com­fort. For him, Judaism was not a source of solace and faith but part of a cul­ture which has put unwel­come bur­dens upon him.

The most inter­est­ing part of the book is Roth’s med­i­ta­tions on the role of truth in love, prompt­ed by his father’s con­ceal­ment of the dis­ease and its ori­gins from his fam­i­ly. Roth is elo­quent on the dan­ger of allow­ing oth­ers to define one’s own iden­ti­ty and the futil­i­ty of exces­sive self-doubt and intro­spec­tion. Read­ers with sim­i­lar fam­i­ly secrets will appre­ci­ate Roth’s insights into pre­vent­ing this issue from dom­i­nat­ing and ulti­mate­ly defin­ing their exis­tence. While some may be less appre­cia­tive of the stream-of-con­scious­ness descrip­tions of his ado­les­cent mind­set, for stu­dents of Amer­i­can Jew­ish cul­ture, Roth’s sto­ry is an inter­est­ing one that suc­cess­ful­ly por­trays the unique cul­ture of Manhattan’s Jew­ish intel­li­gentsia and the inner tur­moil and angst that may lie just beneath the surface.

Edyt Dick­stein is a grad­u­ate of the Joseph Kush­n­er Hebrew Acad­e­my in Liv­ingston, NJ and is study­ing at Har­vard University.

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