Henry Roth & the Statue

In my post on Henry Roth’s 100 b-day I mentioned his description of the statue of Liberty as glanced when he and his mother arrived in these States in 1907, but couldn’t quote it because my copy of Call it Sleep is in storage. Happily old friend John Maas skyped me & here it is, transcribed:

On one side curved the low drab Jersey coast-line, the spars and masts on the waterfront fringing the sky; on the other side was Brooklyn, the flat, water-towered; the horns of the harbor. And before them, rising on her high pedestal from the scaling, swarmy brilliance of sunlit water to the West, Liberty. The spinning disk of the late afternoon sun slanted behind her, and to those aboard who gazed, her features were charred with shadows, her depth exhausted, her masses ironed to one single plane. Against the luminous sky the rays of her halo were spikes of darkness roweling the air; shadow flattened the torch she bore to a black cross against flawless light — the blackened hilt of a broken sword. Liberty. The child and his mother stared again at the massive figure in wonder.

It is as eerie — or just dyspeptic? — an immigrant’s vision of the core symbol of this country as I’ve read anywhere.

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