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Operation Shylock : A Confession (Vintage International) Paperback – March 15, 1994

3.9 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Philip Roth's very literary novels, most famously Portnoy's Complaint, have always had the feel of confessional autobiography. Operation Shylock boasts not only a character named Philip Roth, a Jewish-American novelist, but an impostor who is claiming to be him. Roth's impostor causes a furor in Israel by advocating "Diasporism," the polar opposite of Zionism, encouraging Israelis to return home to eastern Europe. In Israel the real Roth attends the trial of a former Nazi, and also observes at a West Bank military court dealing harshly with young Palestinians. Through stark counterpoint between distorted doubles, along with his trademark bawdy humor, Roth comically explores the tensions of his identity as a writer, as a Jew, and as a human being. Operation Shylock won the PEN/Faulkner Award for 1994.

From Publishers Weekly

Roth's brilliant, absurdist novel, set in Jerusalem during the trial of John Demjanjuk, follows the intersecting paths of two characters who share Roth's name and impersonate one another with dizzying speed.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679750290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679750291
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
While some of the Zuckerman novels, like The Counterlife, focus on ambiguities of identity, Operation Shylock carries its subject to a whole new level. Philip Roth meets Philip Roth in a story that, despite the end disclaimer (and a possible disclaimer's disclaimer, "This confession is false"), may have happened. Even at the end there's no way to be certain.

Actually, this may have been Roth's "last gasp" in the humor department, judging by his last few books, but if so, it's perhaps the funniest of them all. Some of the situations here are so absurd, the dialogue so hilarious, that one wonders what Roth could've done as a syndicated humor columnist. As it is, Roth manages to concoct scenes that are simultaneously profound, moving, and hilarious.

The best scenes, though, are the soul-searching ones, especially the remarkable trial scene in which the Roth character (or whatever) delves into his own thoughts, then into the thoughts of those around him, in a mesmerizing way. Roth is an enormously talented writer, and his ability to depict the mind of someone (or himself) is simply remarkable.

In his last few books Roth has let loose with his prose, and reading Operation Shylock is like watching a piano or violin virtuoso who is so good s/he seems to transcend us mere mortals. His ability to weave long, complex sentences that don't become obscure for a second is something few other writers in the English language have ever matched. Should've won the Pullitzer.
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Format: Paperback
Exploring every conceivable aspect of identity -- of the self, and of the state of Israel -- this novel is a tour de force. I couldn't find Roth's "The Human Stain" after hearing an NPR review, so I picked up "Operation Shylock" instead; it's my first reading of Roth. I'd agree with others' descriptions of some slow or complex passages, but over time I came to view these as almost purposely placed: Roth toying with his own medium as he dances across the fiction/non-fiction line. Comparing this novel with other recent semi-autobiographical works -- like Paul Theroux's "My Other Life" -- I found "Operation Shylock" stayed with me longer and addressed deeper themes. Possibly not the best _introduction_ to Roth, "Operation Shylock" is still extremely funny and extremely intelligent, with an ending that sent me reeling.
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Format: Paperback
Philip Roth's novel "Operation Shylock" presents a two-sided controversial discussion about the justification of the existence of the state of Israel. The protagonist is Roth himself, who has just overcome a period of Halcion-induced depression and is preparing to fly to Israel on a journalistic assignment to interview a Holocaust-surviving author. Coinciding with this event is the trial of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian American citizen extradited to Israel, who is alleged to have been a sadistic SS guard branded Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka death camp during World War II.
Just before making his trip, Roth hears that somebody in Israel is using his name to promote a new Diaspora, imploring the Ashkenazi Jews to return to Europe to reclaim their cultural heritage. Once in Israel, it's not long before he encounters his impersonator after attending a session of Demjanjuk's trial. The impersonator tells Roth that he is a private detective from Chicago and that he runs a counseling service to "cure" anti-Semites, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous in its purpose. Accompanying him in Israel is his girlfriend and a former anti-Semite, a confused American woman with a checkered past, who was his nurse when he was a cancer patient.
Roth's impersonator sees himself as the influential equal and ideological opposite of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism. He advocates Diasporism because he fears that the state of Israel is perceived by the world as Jewish tyranny over Arabs and will lead to a second Holocaust. How the real Roth reacts to this premise develops the rest of the novel, which, as the title implies, shapes itself into a subtle spy story. Some interesting supporting characters are introduced to contribute to the debate and clever plot devices are employed for intrigue.
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Philip Roth is fast becoming one of my favorite living writers, and Operation Shylock was a major reason why. Having read American Pastoral, Portnoy's Complaint, and the Human Stain previously, for me Operation Shylock was the most haunting of his novels. It does seem unfortunate that readers have failed to grasp the crux of the novel, which is identity dislocation, and instead read the novel baldly and I am tempted to address some of the criticism found here directly, but will instead speak directly to my thoughts on the novel. If met on its own terms, this novel is both powerful and complex.

Philip Roth is often accused of disloyalty. He has been called a self-hating Jew, an anti-liberal, amongst other accusations, usually by groups or people who believe he is the voice of their cause. This historical context underlies the psychological conundrum of Operation Shylock in which Roth plays fast and loose with his own public persona as a writer, thinker, and Jew. He beginsthe story with an account of psychological severance that leads into a cat and mouse, noir-ish chase through Israel after his other "self". Far from self-promotion, he uses the gravitas of his writerly image as another example of disclocation- showing that the "real" him is as far from the other "self" as from his "public" self. He dives into the murky waters of Racial identity (his-jewish), present-past continuity of self, and the ideological (does and idea define a person?).

The versimilitude of the novel allows Roth the ability to dissect his own identity very publicly. Though he sometimes lampoons and satrizes his critics (even Dante did that!
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