Philip Roth has been called one of the most influential and important contemporary Americans. Along with Cormac McCarthy, he is among the most celebrated and read novelists of this era. Naturally, when I picked up Operation Shylock, my interest was piqued.
From the outset, this book was a huge disappointment. I cannot deny Roth's command over the art of telling a story. If the book had been written in the third person, I may have even been able to appreciate it more, but that wasn't the case. The impression I came away with that he is a self-consumed, egomaniacal, weirdo who is obsessed with his racial background.
Operation Shylock is a memoir-like recollection of a period of time the author spent in Jerusalem, apparently victim to a large organization level conspiracy to ensnare him and his popularity to further the organizational ambition. He went there with the dual purpose of interviewing the Israeli novelist, Aharon Applefield, and smoking out a poseur pretending to be him in the holy city.
The differences between Zionism and Diasporism, the two extremes of the Jewish dream, are continuously highlighted. His descriptions could perhaps be lauded as academically informative. To call this entertainment, though, is not within my capacity.
I'm not overly religious. I do have an unwavering faith in God as a concept, but organized religion has never been my thing. Roth's portrayal of Jews throughout the book consequently made them appear insecure and a little bit ridiculous. His own self-image was so annoyingly heroic that it made me cringe.
The other Roth (his impostor) that he takes delight in calling “Moishe Pipik” (a Jewish moniker described in an apparently hilarious anecdote within the book), seemed at times a meager tool to elevate Roth's own bravado and machismo. The contrasts that he shows between his own convalescent self and the dying other seemed like they were meant purely to create an aura of power around the writer.