Today begins my round the world reading adventure. I’m starting the year finishing up Operation Shylock, by Phillip Roth, which takes place in Jerusalem. It is a strange tale of impersonation, identity, Anti-Semitism, Zionism. It is a bit of a thriller and an interesting exploration of what it means to be Jewish in the 20th Century. The basic plot is that the author himself is travelling to Jerusalem to interview a holocaust survivor about his recent novels. His visit will coincide with the closing days of the Demjanjuk trial for his role, allegedly as Ivan the Terrible, in the death camps. The question of who Demjanjuk is is just the first of many questions about identity as the novel unfolds. As Roth prepares to leave England for Jerusalem, he is surprised to learn that he is allegedy already in Jerusalem, giving interviews advocating a program of resettling Ashkenazi Jews in Israel back to the European countries from which they fled to escape the deadly Anti-Semitism of the early 20th century. The argument that the Roth impersonator makes is that modern Jewish culture is fundamentally European as well as Jewish and that by staying in the state of Israel, the Jews risk a second Holocaust at the hands of surrounding Arab nations (or that they will respond to the threat of such events with nuclear attack, physically surviving, but morally annihilating themselves in the process). Roth travels to Israel unsure how to deal with the impostor, and arrives only to meet a graduate school friend who is now an angry Palestinian nationalist (or is he???). Roth becomes increasingly entangled in the impersonator’s plotting, meeting him and his “recovering Anti-Semite” Polish oncology nurse girlfriend. I don’t know yet how it ends, but its a fascinating ride.
This book, however doesn’t actually count for my challenge, since I started it in December. My official first book, which I will start today, whether or not I finish Operation Shylock, is V.S. Naipal’s A Bend in the River. Naipal is from Trinidad and is also a Nobel Literature Prize winner. Inspired by a fellow Around the World challenger, I’m going to try to eat something from the country from which I’m reading, so tonight we will have some coconut rice with our seared tofu and stir fried veggies.
Good luck to all my fellow literary explorers. See you on my travels, I hope!!