Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Philip Roth

Philip Roth, the narrator, a writer in his mid-fifties. Following knee surgery, Roth had a mental breakdown, possibly caused by the drug Halcion, which caused him to be delusional. At first, he wonders whether the events in the story he tells are in fact delusions. He relates the story as a confession and says that he has changed the names of characters to protect their identities. In January of 1988, he discovers that someone is impersonating him. The impersonator is attending the trial, in Jerusalem, of John Demjanjuk and is making public appearances and statements to the press. Roth decides to go to Jerusalem, where he confronts the impersonator, whom he begins to call Moishe Pipik. An old, seemingly impoverished Jew (later identified as Smilesburger) gives him a check for $1 million to support Diasporism, a cause promoted by the impostor. George Ziad, an old friend of Roth, tells Roth of his support for Diasporism. Roth pretends to believe in it and says that he would be glad to meet Yassir Arafat and discuss it. On his way back to his hotel that evening, Roth is stopped by Israeli soldiers and is almost beaten, but one of the soldiers recognizes him and allows him to continue on his way. When he returns to his hotel, he discovers that Pipik is in his room. Pipik asks for the $1 million check, and Roth discovers that it is missing. Roth gets Pipik out of his room, but Jinx Possesski arrives later and tells Roth about Pipik’s plot to kidnap John Demjanjuk, Jr. Roth plans to leave Jerusalem but stays because he realizes that if Pipik succeeds in his kidnapping attempt, the elder Demjanjuk would be supported in his claims that he cannot get a fair trial. Roth later is kidnapped, apparently with Smilesburger’s complicity. Smilesburger asks Roth to participate in an intelligence gathering mission. In the epilogue, Roth describes a letter, purportedly from Jinx, telling of Pipik’s demise; he think it actually was written by Pipik. The letter says that Pipik died on January 17, 1991, during the Persian Gulf War. The letter warns him not to ridicule Pipik or Diasporism in a book or he will never be left alone. Roth sends a copy of his manuscript about the Pipik incident to Smilesburger for approval and later meets with him. At the meeting, Smilesburger says he has retired. He pleads with Roth to say that the work is fiction or to remove the chapter about his intelligence mission, and he hints that Roth might put himself in danger by printing the entire book as fact. Smilesburger offers back the manuscript, in a briefcase that contains an envelope...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold. “Operation Roth.” The New York Review of Books 40 (April 22, 1993): 45-48. Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale, has long admired Roth’s writing. He particularly praises the novel’s narrative exuberance, moral intelligence, and high humor.

Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven, et al. “Philip Roth’s Diasporism: A Symposium.” Tikkun 8 (May/June, 1993): 41-45. Several writers express their views about the concept of diaspora in Roth’s Operation Shylock. An in-depth and wide-ranging look at the novel.

Furman, Andrew. “A New Other’ in American Jewish Literature: Philip Roth’s Israel Fiction.” Contemporary Literature 36 (Winter, 1995): 633-653. Focuses on the theme that centers on Israel and projects the concept of the Other’ on the Arab. Although it seems that Roth has escaped the current literary trend of demonizing the Arab, Furman demonstrates that a close textual reading of The Counterlife and Operation Shylock reveals that the theme is reiterated in both works.

Halkin, Hillel. “How to Read Philip Roth.” Commentary 97 (February, 1994): 43-48. Although some critics maintain that Roth is steering away from themes of Judaism, Halkin argues that Roth’s later works are dominated by Jewish themes. Halkin presents several critical analyses of Roth’s books, including Operation Shylock.

Safer, Elaine B. “The Double, Comic Irony, and Postmodernism in Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock. MELUS 21 (Winter, 1996): 157-172. Safer asserts that the humor in Roth’s novel revolves around the ironic use of doubles and a postmodernist blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Updike, John. “Recruiting Raw Nerves.” The New Yorker 69 (March 15, 1993): 109-112. As a novelist, Updike is in many ways Roth’s opposite: coolly disciplined, WASPish, never boisterous. Yet he is an astute and generous critic, and his review praises Roth highly for his evocative style and ingenious plotting. Updike, however, does complain that the book has too many long monologues and that Roth is “an exhausting author to be with.”