Operation Shylock: A Confession Summary

Philip Roth


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Operation Shylock is Philip Roth’s most complex, convoluted and baffling novel, in which he uses the device of the literary double to parallel his identity and history in the text’s two leading personages. He thereby causes the reader to ponder the provocative and probably insoluble conundrums of fiction’s relation to reality and of autobiography’s role in the working of the literary imagination.

Not only does the protagonist-narrator appear under the name, personal history, and likeness of the author as Philip Roth, but from the book’s opening chapter, another man obtrudes with the same name and in the same likeness, with the same gestures and in identical attire. The narrator, Philip, decides to name his double Moishe Pipik, Yiddish for Moses Bellybutton, a comical shadow and fall guy in Jewish folklore.

Philip is recovering, in his Connecticut home, from withdrawal symptoms after having discontinued taking pills to overcome severe pain resulting from knee surgery. In January, 1988, seven months after coming off the drug, he is informed, by a friend, the Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld, that a Philip Roth is lecturing in Jerusalem’s King David hotel on the topic, “Diasporism: The Only Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

Philip phones his impostor, pretending to be a French journalist, and receives a long-distance lecture on Diasporism: It is Pipik’s plan to move all Jews of European descent out of Israel and back to their ancestral countries in the hope of averting a second, Arab-organized Holocaust. Israel, Pipik insists, has become the gravest of threats to Jewish survival because of the Arabs’ resentment of Israel’s expansion. Were European Jews and their families resettled in the lands of their cultural origins, however, only Jews of Islamic descent would be left in Israel. The nation could then revert to its 1948 borders and could demobilize its large army, and Arabs and Israelis would coexist amicably and peacefully.

Philip objects that Pipik’s proposal is wholly naïve, since Europe’s hatred of Jews persists. Pipik responds...

(The entire section is 864 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Over his English wife’s objections, Philip Roth goes to Israel in 1988 ostensibly to interview his friend Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld and to attend the trial of John Demjanjuk, the man accused of being one of the sadistic guards at Treblinka, a Nazi death camp during World War II. Roth interviews Appelfeld and attends the trial, but he is even more interested in a man who is posing as him, calling himself Philip Roth. He not only looks like Roth but also dresses exactly like him. He goes around arguing for a reverse diaspora—that is, for all the Ashkenazi Jews in Israel to leave the country in order to avoid what he is sure will become another Holocaust if they remain. He calls his project “Diasporism.” This, along with everything else that the man represents—including his organization called Anti-Semites Anonymous—infuriates the real Philip Roth, who nicknames his imposter “Moishe Pipik.”

While in Israel, Roth not only meets Appelfeld, who gives him his views on current Israeli politics, but also meets another old friend, George Ziad, a wealthy Palestinian who has espoused Diasporism because of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the Israelis’ treatment of his people. Roth listens to his friends as they engage in lengthy monologues, much as Nathan Zuckerman does in The Counterlife. The major incident occurs in the novel, however, when Roth is abducted by Mossad agents under the direction of one Smilesburger,...

(The entire section is 411 words.)