Book: I Married a Communist

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I Married a Communist

Author: Philip Roth
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co

I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.

In his heyday as a star—and as a zealous, bullying supporter of “progressive” political causes—Ira marries Hollywood’s beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve’s scandalous bestselling exposé that identifies him as “an American taking his orders from Moscow.”

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira’s turbulent personal life, Philip Roth—who Commonweal calls the “master chronicler of the American twentieth century—has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.


Iron Rinn (né Ira Ringold) is a self-educated radio actor, married to a spoilt, rags-to-riches beauty, silent-film star Eve Frame (née Chave Fromkin). He is a Communist, and a “sucker for suffering,” locked into the cycle of violence from which he has emerged. She has risen by assiduous imitation of what is “classy”—which seems to include a wide swathe of anti-Semitism—and ultimately denounces her husband as a Soviet spook. And who would be the narrator of this McCarthy-era meltdown? None other than Philip Roth’s longtime alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, who learns the full tragedy several decades later, owing to a chance encounter with Ira’s brother: “I’m the only person living who knows Ira’s story,” 90-year-old Murray Ringold tells Nathan, “you’re the only person still living who cares about it.”

Characteristically, Nathan also discovers that his own story was bound up with the blacklistings and ruined careers of the immediate postwar period. It seems that he had been tainted by his association with the Ringolds—Murray was in fact his high-school teacher—and was denied the Fulbright scholarship he deserved. “They had you down for Ira’s nephew,” Murray tells Nathan. “The FBI didn’t always get everything right.” Roth’s acerbic style and keen eye for emotional detail goes to the heart of this moment of high tragedy in which the American dream was damaged beyond repair. —Lisa Jardine

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