Philip Roth
Philip Roth; drawing by David Levine


When requested to choose an exemplary passage from his work for a New York Public Library Commonplace Book, Philip Roth came up with this, from Zuckerman Unbound (1981):

Zuckerman was tall, but not as tall as Wilt Chamberlain. He was thin, but not as thin as Mahatma Gandhi. In his customary getup of tan corduroy coat, gray turtleneck sweater, and cotton khaki trousers he was neatly attired, but hardly Rubirosa. Nor was dark hair and a prominent nose the distinguishing mark in New York that it would have been in Reykjavik or Helsinki. But two, three, four times a week, they spotted him anyway. “It’s Carnovsky!” “Hey, want to see my underwear, Gil?” In the beginning, when he heard someone call after him out on the street, he would wave hello to show what a good sport he was. It was the easiest thing to do, so he did it. Then the easiest thing was to pretend that he was hearing things, to realize that it was happening in a world that didn’t exist. They had mistaken impersonation for confession and were calling out to a character who lived in a book. Zuckerman tried taking it as praise—he had made real people believe Carnovsky real too—but in the end he pretended he was only himself, and with his quick, small steps hurried on.

Twelve years later, in his new book Operation Shylock, Roth pretends he is only himself, and then doubles the pretense. We are given two fictional characters calling themselves Philip Roth, the as it were original Philip Roth and an impostor, who has arrived in Jerusalem usurping the novelist’s identity in order to advance a counter-Zionist movement, a “new Diasporism” that urges Ashkenazi Israelis to return to their countries of origin, particularly in Europe. This idea, one of Roth’s grand inventions, reminds me of Saki’s short story “The Unrest-Cure,” where an Unrest-cure could be defined as the equivalent of preaching Diasporism in Jerusalem:

Well, you might stand as an Orange Candidate for Kilkenny, or do a course of district visiting in one of the Apache quarters of Paris, or give lectures in Berlin to prove that most of Wagner’s music was written by Gambetta; and there’s always the interior of Morocco to travel in. But, to be really effective, the Unrest-cure ought to be tried in the home.

Roth’s career as a novelist has been one long Unrest-cure, in this sense, and has been tried in the home, if we take that home metaphorically as being the Jewish situation or condition. He has made himself the issue, the novelist as scapegoat, accused of Jewish self-hatred by Jews so defensive that they can’t bear any criticism, however accurate or well-intentioned. It is rather late in the day for a Jewish writer to present himself as a moral prophet, but in his books Roth has dared to do so, making moral judgments on the relationship between parents and children, husbands and wives and lovers, and he has thus earned a lifetime of unrest. Indeed his new novel seems the apotheosis of a Jewish Unrest-cure.

Having endured so many unkind readings, Roth the novelist responded by making the entire Zuckerman saga his own ordeal, the saga of the novelist’s travail at suffering his critics. This might have been intolerable had Roth forgotten or lost his comic gift, the uniquely painful laughter that he specializes in provoking. Poor Nathan Zuckerman going from scrape to disaster induces hilarity in us even as we wince at the humiliations that we endure with him, since his wounded dignity becomes our own.

Whether Operation Shylock marks the ultimate replacement of Zuckerman by “Philip Roth,” his successor in the new novel is a much livelier fellow than the author of Carnovsky. Compared to the authentic “Philip Roth” (not the impostor) of Operation Shylock, the Zuckerman of The Counterlife, The Anatomy Lesson, etc., was more passive and conventional. Women thrust themselves on the hapless Zuckerman. He is besieged by nearly everyone he encounters, and responds ineffectually. But “Philip Roth,” in Operation Shylock, is far more aggressive. Moreover, by narrowing the gap between author and protagonist (though the gap is certainly, as it has to be, still there), Roth the novelist has been able to create his most vivid character: fiercely comic, exuberant, stubbornly reasonable and unreasonably stubborn, lucid in extremis, above all immensely curious, about others as well as about himself.

It is irrelevant to accuse a comic genius of self-centeredness, whether the specialist in the aesthetics of outrage is W. C. Fields or Roth. The humorist, in portraying himself, gives us an exemplary figure, the person whose stance says: “We are here to be insulted.” To that extent, Operation Shylock’s “Philip Roth” is a descendant of the greatest of fictive humorists, Sir John Falstaff, who is there to be insulted and to return more, and more wittily than he receives. More than any other figure in literature, Falstaff is so intelligent a comedian that even his throwaway lines compel us to deep, prolonged meditation. So, too, Roth’s new novel offers perspectives that are intensely serious.


Still, he has not written Operation Falstaff, but Operation Shylock, and the Jewish image, as always, remains his central concern. One of the throwaway phrases in The Counterlife is “Jews, who are to history what Eskimos are to snow.” Roth’s perspective has always been that of the endless blizzards of Jewish history. Portnoy’s Complaint remains wonderfully funny on rereading, and is anything but a period piece. What is transparent is that book’s willing and positive Jewishness; as much as Patrimony (1991), an account of his father’s long dying, it is also a testament to the painful love for one’s parents. The sorrows and absurdities of love—familial, personal, or for a people—have been Roth’s true subject ever since. We do not expect a fierce satirist of Jewish life to be motivated by love for his targets, but that seems to me the innermost meaning of Roth’s new novel.


In its first sentence Operation Shylock thrusts us into the midst of things, with a reference, dated January 1988, to the Jerusalem trial of John Demjanjuk, alleged by the Israeli prosecution to be the notorious Ivan the Terrible, the vicious guard of the Treblinka death camp. The pathos of the State of Israel, its salient feature to many Jews of the Diaspora, is certainly present in this novel, with its reminders of Holocaust horrors. But equally present are the harsh equivocations that seem to some necessary for the survival of the state, at least in its present boundaries. The hypocrisies and brutalities of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians emerge with frightening vividness in Operation Shylock, which nevertheless balances the hypocrisies and brutalities with a sense of the Israelis’ desperation for survival. What emerges from Roth’s novel is the terrible paradox that Israel is no escape from the burdens of the Diaspora.

Roth begins his “confession” (the book’s subtitle) with the shock at being told of “the other Philip Roth” who is in Jerusalem to mount a crusade promoting “Diasporism: The Only Solution to the Jewish Problem.” Rather than madden both myself and the readers of this review, I refer to the author of Operation Shylock as Roth, the central character in the novel as “Philip Roth,” and the impostor as Moishe Pipik, the name assigned to him by “Philip Roth” in the book.

Moishe Pipik (Moses Bellybutton) is the eternal Yiddish little shot wishing to be a big shot. A rather shady private detective, Pipik longs for the worldly success of the author of Portnoy’s Complaint and its successors. Unable to emulate his hero as a writer, the impostor chooses outrageous action. Pipik, in “Philip Roth’s” name, has secured an appointment with Lech Walesa, and has sold the Polish leader on his plan to persuade hordes of Jews voluntarily to return to Poland, traditional paradise for Jews! But even that is only a particle of Pipik’s mad design. He is also the founder of Anti-Semites Anonymous, an organization which, like its model, urges its potential members to abstain from their addiction, which simultaneously recognizing that they are incurable.

Pipik is “Philip Roth’s” antithetical shadow: he looks like his original, dresses like him, has studied every mannerism, researched minutely the writer’s childhood history. Uncanny as this is, it is persuasive, if only because “Philip Roth” frequently confides in us his worries that he is still in a state of Halcion-induced nervous breakdown. The theme of the double, which Poe handled without humor in “William Wilson,” Roth treats both as Kafkan hallucination and as an American-Jewish comedy, set in Jerusalem during the hallucinatory trial of the supposed Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.

What fascinates about Operation Shylock is the degree of the author’s experimentation in shifting the boundaries between his life and his work. It may even be that Roth has succeeded in inventing a new kind of disciplined bewilderment for the reader, since it becomes difficult to hold in one’s head at every moment all of the permutations of the Rothian persona.

One sees now that the crossing-point in Roth’s career was The Counterlife, in which Zuckerman, the novelist, and his brother, who has fled his American family to settle in Israel, turn upon each other in a debate over whose life it was anyway, and who was stealing the other’s identity. Whether or not Roth decides to bind his last four books together, they clearly are a tetralogy in which the novelist presents himself, along with his antithetical double or shadow self, as two opposing natures implacably set against each other. The Facts (1988), an ostensible autobiography centering upon Roth’s education as a novelist, annoyed me when it first came out. It seemed to be what Roth’s harshest critics consider his work to be: too clever, self-obsessed, a narcissistic reverie, but after Operation Shylock, I see that I misread it.


In its final section, The Facts explodes into a protest by Nathan Zuckerman against his author. Roth gets nearly five times the space for his narrative that Zuckerman gets for a reply, yet the fictional character’s thirty-five pages are the most memorable in the book, since Zuckerman may not match Roth in intellect, but overdoes him as a rhetorician of outrage. This outrage is a direct expression of his fear that he may cease to exist if his portrayer turns to explicit autobiography. Urging against publication of The Facts, Zuckerman points to an apparent weakness in Roth’s work that Operation Shylock has, I believe, transcended:

As for characterization, you, Roth, are the least completely rendered of all your protagonists. Your gift is not to personalize your experience but to personify it, to embody it in the representation of a person who is not yourself. You are not an autobiographer, you’re a personificator…. My guess is that you’ve written metamorphoses of yourself so many times, you no longer have any idea what you are or ever were. By now what you are is a walking text.

That last sentence spoken by character to author is nervy enough, but all of Zuckerman’s letter seethes with the anxiety of a walking text that is about to be replaced; it is a fierce plea that cries out: Don’t kill me!

The “Philip Roth” of Operation Shylock happily turns out to resemble Roth less than Zuckerman did. Indeed, “Philip Roth” is, I think, Roth’s most vivid character, surpassing Portnoy, Tarnopol, the protagonist in My Life as a Man, Kepesh, who is the professor in The Professor of Desire, and the long-suffering and charmingly manic Zuckerman. I suspect that much of the reason for this is the presence of Moishe Pipik, the double, the not-so-secret sharer. With Pipik to fend off, “Philip Roth” is given a target, and thus the scope to become the fullest of Roth’s characters in the variety of his sympathies. The initial pleasures a reader will take in this book will be its narrative exuberance, moral intelligence, and the high humor manifested throughout. But the most vivid impression, after several rereadings, is of the voice of “Philip Roth.”


Moishe Pipik, the double, has a remote ancestor in Alvin Pepler, the discredited TV quiz-kid who plagued the hero of Zuckerman Unbound by alternately praising and attacking him as the celebrated author of Carnovsky. In Pipik, Roth deliberately creates a more Dostoevskian double, at once in love with the idea of “Philip Roth,” and helpless to cease his persecution of the writer. Pipik is a zealot, a terminal cancer patient in remission, and something of an idealistic thug. Both of his mad crusades, “Diasporism” and “Anti-Semites Anonymous,” are animated by nightmare intimations of a ghastly double scenario: an all-out attack upon Israel by the entire Muslim world, and the inevitable reaction of the Israeli Doomsday Machine, its extensive nuclear arsenal.

Hovering behind Pipik is, of course, the shadow of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who spied for Israeli intelligence. But in the tangles of Roth’s plot, it is not Pipik who is a Mossad agent, as might be suspected. It is “Philip Roth” who performs that role, in the Mossad’s “Operation Shylock,” whose purpose is to search out supposed secret American-Jewish financial backers of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Diasporism is Roth’s pretext for the operation, and it spurs “Philip Roth” to manic impersonations of Pipik, which invariably improve upon the fantasies of the double who is being redoubled:

No, I didn’t stop for a very long time. On and on and on, obeying an impulse I did nothing to quash, ostentatiously free of uncertainty and without a trace of conscience to rein in my raving. I was telling them about the meeting of the World Diasporist Congress to take place in December, fittingly enough in Basel, the site of the first World Zionist Congress just ninety years ago. At that first Zionist Congress there had been only a couple of hundred delegates—my goal was to have twice that many, Jewish delegations from every European country where the Israeli Ashkenazis would soon resume the European Jewish life that Hitler had all but extinguished. Walesa, I told them, had already agreed to appear as keynote speaker or to send his wife in his behalf if he concluded that he could not safely leave Poland. I was talking about the Armenians, suddenly, about whom I knew nothing. “Did the Armenians suffer because they were in a Diaspora? No, because they were at home and the Turks moved in and massacred them there.” I heard myself next praising the greatest Diasporist of all, the father of the new Diasporist movement, Irving Berlin. “People ask where I got the idea. Well, I got it listening to the radio. The radio was playing ‘Easter Parade’ and I thought, But this is Jewish genius on a par with the Ten Commandments. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave to Irving Berlin ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘White Christmas.’ The two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ—the divinity that’s the very heart of the Jewish rejection of Christianity—and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both! Easter he turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow. Gone is the gore and the murder of Christ—down with the crucifix and up with the bonnet! He turns their religion into schlock. But nicely! Nicely! So nicely the goyim don’t even know what hit ’em. They love it. Everybody loves it. The Jews especially. Jews loathe Jesus. People always tell me Jesus is Jewish. I never believe them. It’s like when people used to tell me Cary Grant was Jewish. Bullshit. Jews don’t want to hear about Jesus. And can you blame them? So—Bing Crosby replaces Jesus as the beloved Son of God, and the Jews, the Jews, go around whistling about Easter! And is that so disgraceful a means of defusing the enmity of centuries? Is anyone really dishonored by this? If schlockified Christianity is Christianity cleansed of Jew hatred, then three cheers for schlock. If supplanting Jesus Christ with snow can enable my people to cozy up to Christmas, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Here the voices of Roth and of “Philip Roth” fuse together. The irony cuts every which way, both celebrating and eviscerating the America of schlock, Gentile and Jewish. When this mocktirade reaches its apotheosis, there is something to offend nearly everyone, particularly Jews. “Better Irving Berlin than Ariel Sharon. Better Irving Berlin than the Wailing Wall. Better Irving Berlin than Holy Jerusalem! What does owning Jerusalem, of all places, have to do with being Jews in 1988?” This perhaps is “Philip Roth” disengaging from Roth, while surpassing Moishe Pipik in a Diasporism even more extreme than his.

Roth’s comic art in Operation Shylock is an aesthetic leap beyond the complexities of The Counterlife in projecting alternate, shifting realities. What are the limits of Roth’s assault on the imagination in Operation Shylock? One even begins to wonder whose photograph frowns at us on the dust jacket. Is it Roth or Moishe Pipik or “Philip Roth”? There is not an iota of difference in the quality of portraiture, in the novel, between Roth’s friend, the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, and Appelfeld’s foil or double, the Holocaust survivor, “Philip Roth’s” cousin Apter. Yet while Appelfeld is a real person and Apter is only a convincing fiction. Apter is in Roth’s pages as strong a presence as Appelfeld. Operation Shylock ends with a “Note to the Reader” whose final sentence is: “This confession is false,” but we are left uncertain just how false it is.

Both Moishe Pipik and “Philip Roth” are preoccupied with the still undecided case of Ivan the Terrible’s true identity, itself a reflection of thematic doubling carried over into terrible reality. Roth in his mock preface speaks of “agreeing to undertake an intelligence-gathering operation for Israel’s foreign intelligence service, the Mossad,” clearly part of the fiction, but shifts abruptly to fact, to the case of John Demjanjuk who has been confused with Ivan Marchenko, the likely real Ivan the Terrible of the Treblinka death camp. Yet Roth adds the further detail: Demjanjuk continues to maintain his total innocence, even though German federal archives prove that he was in fact a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp. However the Marchenko/Demjanjuk case pending before the Israeli Supreme Court is decided, Roth here reinforces his theme of the ambivalence of guilt, even as he also selectively records the events of the Demjanjuk trial, and something of its impact upon Israel.

Moishe Pipik is a somewhat shadowy character, whose lifelong compulsion to become Philip Roth is not adequately explained. Doubles and secret-sharers vex all novelists and story-writers, if only because their quests necessarily involve either forsaking their own identities or an initial, perhaps preternatural, lack of any identity whatever. Pipik is something of the self-hating Jew or Jewish anti-Semite that Roth himself was accused of being in the bad old days. The other founding member of Pipik’s Anti-Semites Anonymous is his girlfriend and nurse, a Polish-American enchantress named “Jinx” Possesski. As with Saul Bellow’s female characters, Roth’s tend not to be very convincing, and Jinx alas is no exception.

Indeed, the most successful characterizations in the novel, after that of the outraged and outrageous “Philip Roth,” are not of his double and the double’s girlfriend, but of the Palestinian and Israeli antagonists, emblematically presented as George Ziad, “Philip Roth’s” old friend from the University of Chicago Graduate School, and the Mossad officer Smiles-burger. Ziad, who is evidently connected with the Palestine Liberation Organization, has an eloquence in his anti-Israeli harangues that rivals even as it satirizes much that I have read by champions of the Palestinian cause:

These victorious Jews are terrible people. I don’t just mean the Kahanes and the Sharons. I mean them all, the Yehoshuas and the Ozes included. The good ones who are against the occupation of the West Bank but not against the occupation of my father’s house, the “beautiful Israelis” who want their Zionist thievery and their clean conscience too. They are no less superior than the rest of them—these beautiful Israelis are even more superior…. Who do they think they are, these provincial nobodies! Jailers! This is their great Jewish achievement—to make Jews into jailers and jet-bomber pilots! And just suppose they were to succeed, suppose they were to win and have their way and every Arab in Nablus and every Arab in Hebron and every Arab in the Galilee and in Gaza, suppose every Arab in the world, were to disappear courtesy of the Jewish nuclear bomb, what would they have here fifty years from now? A noisy little state of no importance whatsoever. That’s what the persecution and the destruction of the Palestinians will have been for—the creation of a Jewish Belgium, without even a Brussels to show for it.

Ziad, driven to the verge of breakdown by Israeli oppression, is without parallel in Roth’s earlier work. For the first time, we are given a character who suffers outrageous treatment but who is not Roth’s surrogate. Ziad’s passion, his extraordinary command of irony, go beyond Portnoy’s and Zuckerman’s in their more domestic and self-deceived struggles for survival. Except for “Philip Roth,” Ziad is Operation Shylock’s most sympathetic character, more so than the ambiguous Smilesburger, who preaches against strife and slander between Jews, but is also a relentless representative of the Mossad. Smilesburger, although he is a humane and lucid critic of Jewish self-hatred, Jewish self-love, and Jewish feuding, and is keenly aware of Israeli injustice toward the Palestinians, is not in the least inhibited by the sufferings of his victims.

The contrast between Ziad and Smilesburger grants the Arab the pathos and the Israeli a subtle combination of pragmatic ruthlessness and wasted wisdom. Yet Roth is again exploiting the thematic ambivalence that governs his book, since the reader surmises that there is another doubling here. Ziad and Smilesburger, PLO and Mossad, are caught in the dialectic of becoming what each beholds in the other. Smilesburger becomes more passionately inclined to outflank the Palestinians, and Ziad is trapped in fantasies of violent revenge. Neither can attain an unambivalent understanding of the other’s dilemma.

The epigraphs to Operation Shylock are from the Yahwist or J writer, the first authors in the Hebrew Bible, and from Kierkegaard, the two great ironic masters of primal ambivalence. “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” I read that “man” as the Angel of Death, who represents the possible fate that Jacob fears to confront at the hands of his vengeful brother, Esau. Perhaps Pipik after all is an Esau, and precisely such a threat for Philip Roth. “The whole content of my being shrieks in contradiction against itself,” writes Kierkegaard, who adds: “Existence is surely a debate.” “Against itself” is Roth’s reading of his own nature, of his art, and of life.

Shylock is introduced into the novel by David Supposnik, Tel Aviv rare book dealer and possible Shin Bet (Internal Security) agent. Supposnik, like Aharon Appelfeld a Holocaust survivor, associates “this modern trial of the Jew, this trial which never ends,…with the trial of Shylock.” Roth employs Supposnik to cast aside Romantic and modern emphases on the supposed pathos of Shylock, and thus to return us to the stage Jew’s “overwhelming Shakespearean reality, a terrifying Shakespearean aliveness.” As Supposnik accurately says, because of Shylock: “the savage, repellent, and villainous Jew, deformed by hatred and revenge, entered as our doppelgänger into the consciousness of the enlightened West.”

As the ultimate Jew, Shylock has caused immeasurable harm. It is refreshing to hear Supposnik’s repudiation of nineteenth- and twentieth-century sentimentalizing of Shakespeare’s farcical villain:

The Victorian conception of Shylock, however—Shylock as a wronged Jew rightfully vengeful—the portrayal that descends through the Keans to Irving and into our century, is a vulgar sentimental offense not only against the genuine abhorrence of the Jew that animated Shakespeare and his era but to the long illustrious chronicle of European Jew-baiting. The hateful, hateable Jew whose artistic roots extend back to the Crucifixion pageants at York, whose endurance as the villain of history no less than of drama is unparalleled, the hook-nosed moneylender, the miserly, money-maddened, egotistical degenerate, the Jew who goes to synagogue to plan the murder of the virtuous Christian—this is Europe’s Jew, the Jew expelled in 1290 by the English, the Jew banished in 1492 by the Spanish, the Jew terrorized by Poles, butchered by Russians, incinerated by Germans, spurned by the British and the Americans while the furnaces roared at Treblinka. The vile Victorian varnish that sought to humanize the Jew, to dignify the Jew, has never deceived the enlightened European mind about the three thousand ducats, never has and never will.

Is there a more memorable Jewish character in all of Western literature than Shylock? As a critic, not a novelist, I myself am unhappy at confessing that I do not know a stronger Jewish character than Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic creation, who has an existence as convincing as Hamlet or Iago even though compared to Hamlet or Iago he speaks only very few lines. It is worth noting that when the virtuous Antonio, generous Christian, proves the authenticity of his piety by spitting and cursing at the Jew, and when he suggests that Shylock be compelled to convert to the true faith, or else face execution, this was Shakespeare’s own quite gratuitous invention, and had no previous part in the pound-of-flesh tradition. The play, honestly interpreted and responsibly performed, as it was not in the recent Broadway production with Dustin Hoffman, would no longer be acceptable on a stage in New York City, for it is an anti-Semitic masterpiece, unmatched in its kind.

The strongest of all writers gave us a portrait never quite to be erased, however stage history and critical revisionism have labored to undo it during the last two centuries. Of all American-Jewish writers, Roth seems to know this best. Shylock, Roth intimates, is every Jew’s dreaded double. Supposnik’s shrewd and bitter tirade is the prelude to “Operation Shylock” proper, the mission upon which Philip Roth will embark on behalf of his Mossad handler who has taken the code-name of Smilesburger, and which brings the novel to its conclusion. The supposed Mossad operation, whose purpose is to unmask hidden Jewish supporters of the PLO, is clearly a fantastic invention, and Roth has “Philip Roth” refuse us any account of the procedure and details of the mission. The explicit justification given is that “Philip Roth’s” Mossad handlers have insisted on the omission “for security reasons,” and the command is followed by the amateur agent.

But the fictive mission that “Philip Roth” undertakes, to Athens and to another, unnamed, city, is also a response to the potent myth of Shylock. For “Philip Roth’s” secret sharer is not the wretched Moishe Pipik (who is certainly an anti-Semite, and perhaps not Jewish); it is Shylock. “Philip Roth” says he cannot “name for himself what…was impinging on this decision.” Was I, he asks, “succumbing…to a basic law of my existence, to the instinct for impersonations which I had so far enacted solely within the realm of fiction”? Yet by accepting Smilesburger’s proposal, he leaves the reader free, I think, to decide that, for him, it may also be a mission against Jewish self-hatred, just as it is for Smilesburger.

At sixty, and with twenty books published, Roth in Operation Shylock confirms the gifts of comic invention and moral intelligence that he has brought to American prose fiction since 1959. A superb prose stylist, particularly skilled in dialogue, he now has developed the ability to absorb recalcitrant public materials into what earlier seemed personal obsessions. And though his context tends to remain stubbornly Jewish, he has developed fresh ways of opening out universal perspectives from Jewish dilemmas, whether they are American, Israeli, or European. The “Philip Roth” of Operation Shylock is very Jewish, and yet his misadventures could be those of any fictional character who has to battle for his identity against an impostor who has usurped it. That wrestling match, to win back one’s own name, is a marvelous metaphor for Roth’s struggle as a novelist, particularly in his later books, Zuckerman Bound, The Counterlife, and the quasi-tetralogy culminating in Operation Shylock, which form a coherent succession of works difficult to match in recent American writing.

At the book’s midpoint, “Philip Roth” says to Pipik, “You could have established a chapter of A-SA right in Vatican City. Meetings in the basement of St. Peter’s Church. Full house every night. ‘My name is Eugenio Pacelli. I’m a recovering anti-Semite.’ Pipik, who sent you to me in my hour of need? Who made me this wonderful gift? Know what Heine liked to say? There is a God, and his name is Aristophanes.” That is Roth’s comic Gospel, too. Operation Shylock’s answer to Shakespeare’s Shylock is Aristophanes, whose mode of comedy—exuberant, outrageous, hallucinatory—has found in Roth a living master.

This Issue

April 22, 1993