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This is where the late great Roth run began. Operation Shylock started what might just be the greatest series of amazing books by one author I can think of:
Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993)
Sabbath's Theater (1995)
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)
So, like I tend to do with great writers, I back into their early greats. I read backwards, crosswise, and reverse into the first.
So, 2014 (21 years after it was first published), I find myself reading and loving Operation Shylock. I am amazed by Roth's ability to bend an idea back and forth without having it break. He is able to flex and bend (sinister?) an idea until every detail has been bled out. The ink of the effort is all on the page. He is able to construct a book filled with doppelgängers, liars, Jews and Palestinian rock throwers and professors and wreck havoc on any simplicity of plot. Every mirror in Roth's novel reverses the part in your hair and eventually shows you that your belief about who you are and what you believe is constructed out of fiction. There is no fact only deception and transgression.
This novel isn't built from one narrative. It is built out of several narratives. The narrative of Roth writing about a Roth (a fictionalized version of Roth) being stalked by a Roth (Moshe Pipkin). Everyone is gaming everyone. Interjected into the narrative are several true narratives (Aharon Apelfeld, Leon Klinghoffer, John Demjanjuk (who may be also be Ivan the Terrible Demjanjuk). These "true" narratives serve to also deepen the idea of a fluid identity, our mutual responsibility, our ultimate nature to lie, to deceive, to hustle. Then there is the other true narrative. The narrative of the Jew, the Goy, Israel, and the Diaspora. Roth is somehow able to weave this all together in a way that fits and works. Roth is able to reflect on his place within the Jewish community and as a writer in a way that he couldn't without being confronted with a transgressive doppelgänger. Anyway, I'm still trying to get my brain and my stomach comfortably around the whole of it. Perhaps, I'll write more tomorrow about the missing Chapter 11, or perhaps I'll just say screw it and return to my own goy problems.
18 of 20 people found this review helpful
I loved this book! I listened to Operation Shylock while commuting to work--I shivered at its brilliance, gasped aloud each time I reached my destination and had to turn it off. As one whose profession it is to sort through the psychological complexities of mental illness, neurosis, psychosis, shifting perceptions and altered realities, I found the minds of the twin Philip Roths (real or imagined?) as fascinating as any patient I've ever had the opportunity to accompany through the dark abyss of self-doubt, creativity, confusion, and triumph. It takes one down thrilling internal twists and turns of the American Jewish psyche, back alleys of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the Nazi war trials. This is one of those rare books I will listen to again.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful