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Operation Shylock


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About the Author

PHILIP ROTH won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians' Prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004." Roth received PEN's two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2018.


In yet another audacious spin on the doppelganger theme, Roth's dazzling, maddening and brilliant new novel offers two characters that bear his name: one a famous author called Philip Roth, the other an impostor who brazenly impersonates the ``real'' Philip Roth. Convinced that Israel will be destroyed by the Arab nations, the pretender has assumed Roth's identity in order to publicize his scheme to establish a new diaspora that will lead Jews out of Israel and back to their pre-Holocaust cultural roots in Europe. Roth's familiar tactic of fictionalizing the truth, such as it is, has the reader continually on edge, wondering what here is based on fact and what is ``the sacrosanct prank of artistic transubstantiation.'' The novel is set in Jerusalem during the trial of John Demjanjuk (who claimed he was not Ivan the Terrible, but merely a man who resembled the sadistic concentration-camp guard). Roth also refers to the trial of Shakespeare's Shylock, whose name the narrator gives to what he concludes is an Israeli intelligence operation that has manipulated the series of bizarre experiences in which he finds himself. Other actual figures represented in the story include Aharon Appelfeld (whose interview with the author is reprinted from the original in the New York Times Book Review ), Jonathan Pollard (accused of spying for Israel) and Leon Klinghoffer (the victim of the Achille Lauro highjacking). Among the fictional characters, there's a nurse called Wanda Jane ``Jinx'' Possesski, whose two-sided personality matches her name; and handicapped Mr. Smilesburger, who is definitely not what he seems. The plot is like a house of mirrors; the narrator and his fraudulent twin impersonate each other with dizzying speed, which allows Roth to present the reverse side of every argument his characters make. He deliberately courts shock value: the events he depicts are both comical and horrible, often simultaneously; his characters' views are extremist and even bizarre. But Roth is dead serious. He leads readers through the absurdist plot with an impassioned argument about the eternal issue of the Jew in a largely Christian culture. Ingenious and provocative, this novel marks yet another achievement for a writer whose stock in trade is taking risks. (Apr.)

The drama of Jewish survival takes a new twist in this novel, but Rothean ideas persist: all humans make fiction, man betrays and fulfills his father's dream; an artist's doubt is his integrity; Jews test freedom (in the West from exclusion and prejudice, in Israel from temptations of power); embattled Israel dramatizes the nationalisms that drive history, with the Holocaust their persistent threat. Here, through a pseudo-autobiographical escapade in intifada Israel during the ``Ivan the Terrible'' trial, a writer confronts his double. Playing off recent autobiography, Roth gives his fictive protagonist, ``Philip Roth,'' the author's known career. Led into Mossad intrigue to defend Jewish security and his writer's integrity, this ``Roth'' chews the cud of these tortuous themes and is at times as baffled as Kafka's K. Using ``Philip Roth'' as an irritant to thought, Roth will make some readers steam. By midway he is telegraphing his punches, and his sparkling absurdity dissolves in perseveration. Recommended for public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92; Roth reported in the New York Times , March 9, 1993, that all events depicted in this book are in fact true but that the Mossad insisted that he bill it as fiction.--Ed.-- Alan Cooper, York Coll . , CUNY

A Time Magazine Best American Novel

"One of Roth's grand inventions.... [He is] a comic genius ... a living master." -Harold Bloom, The New York Review of Books

"The uncontested master of comic irony." -Time magazine

"A devilish book, nervously exuding a kind of delirious brilliance like sweat at every pore, and madly comic." -Alfred Kazin

"A brilliant novel of ideas ... Roth has gone farther into his own genius than he ever has before." -Ted Solotaroff, The Nation

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