Philip Roth Operation Shylock: A Confession
Award: Faulkner Award for Fiction
(Full name Philip Milton Roth) Born in 1933, Roth is an American novelist, short story writer, autobiographer, essayist, and critic.
For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 15, 22, 31, 47, and 66.
Operation Shylock (1993) centers on a character named Philip Roth, who travels to Israel in 1988 after learning that a man claiming to be Philip Roth is in Jerusalem promoting a movement called "Diasporism." Roth eventually meets his impostor—a former private detective from Chicago who is dying of cancer—and gives him the nickname Moishe Pipik. Predicated on his belief that a future Muslim attack on Israel will prompt the Israelis to respond with nuclear weapons, Pipik contends that in order for Judaism to survive, all Ashkenazi Jews must return to Europe and relinquish Palestine to native Middle Easterners. The novel also concerns Roth's interaction with George Ziad, a Palestinian friend from Roth's college years who tries to recruit him to the Palestinian cause, and Louis B. Smilesburger, a Mossad spymaster who is trying to recruit Roth for "Operation Shylock," an Israeli intelligence scheme designed to uncover Jewish-American financial backers of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). After many unsuccessful efforts, Smilesburger eventually convinces Roth to travel to Europe to spy on Ziad and his Jewish contacts. Although Israel's stance toward Palestinians, which Roth characterizes as combative and aggressive, is treated throughout Operation Shylock as damaging to the Diaspora, which is credited with producing many of Judaism's cultural achievements, Roth's final cooperation with Smilesburger suggests that there is a part of Roth that cannot turn away from Israel. Critical reaction to Operation Shylock has been mixed. While praising Roth's use of the doppelgänger and his elaborate development of themes concerning his Jewish identity, Judaism, the Diaspora, and the future of Israel, many commentators argue that the novel suffers from rhetorical excess and Roth's interest in self-presentation. Roth's incorporation of historical events and actual people in the work and his insistence that Operation Shylock is autobiographical and not a piece of fiction has also puzzled critics and generated controversy. Nevertheless, John Updike has contended that "this Dostoyevskian phantasmagoria is an impressive reassertion of artistic energy, and a brave expansion of Roth's 'densely overstocked little store of concerns' into the global marketplace. It should be read by anyone who cares about (1) Israel and its repercussions; (2) the development of the postmodern novel; (3) Philip Roth."