The drama of Jewish survival takes a new twist in this novel, but Rothean ideas persist: all humans make fiction, man betrays and fulfills his father's dream; an artist's doubt is his integrity; Jews test freedom (in the West from exclusion and prejudice, in Israel from temptations of power); embattled Israel dramatizes the nationalisms that drive history, with the Holocaust their persistent threat. Here, through a pseudo-autobiographical escapade in intifada Israel during the ``Ivan the Terrible'' trial, a writer confronts his double. Playing off recent autobiography, Roth gives his fictive protagonist, ``Philip Roth,'' the author's known career. Led into Mossad intrigue to defend Jewish security and his writer's integrity, this ``Roth'' chews the cud of these tortuous themes and is at times as baffled as Kafka's K. Using ``Philip Roth'' as an irritant to thought, Roth will make some readers steam. By midway he is telegraphing his punches, and his sparkling absurdity dissolves in perseveration. Recommended for public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92; Roth reported in the New York Times , March 9, 1993, that all events depicted in this book are in fact true but that the Mossad insisted that he bill it as fiction.--Ed.-- Alan Cooper, York Coll . , CUNY
Roth writes as if he's in front of a mirror, looking back and forth from his reflection to the page like a painter working on a self-portrait, but it is this very doubling of the self that is his subject, this obsessive self-scrutiny and interpretation, this need every self has for stories to live by. Especially, perhaps, the uneasy Jewish self. And he exploits his theme for all it's worth in this veritable torrent of talk and second-guessing. This is a brilliant yet drubbing, satirical yet deadly serious Kafkaesque tale about a series of absurd emotional and moral crises in the life of a Jewish American writer named Philip Roth. Roth has just barely recovered from a Halcion-induced breakdown when he finds out that a man claiming to be Philip Roth is in Jerusalem promoting a bizarrely perverse movement to return Israeli Jews of European descent to Europe. The "real" Roth has already planned a trip to Jerusalem and, rather than get help, chooses to confront this flamboyant impostor on his own. What ensues is a wild journey into the conflictful realm of modern Jewishness and the "pathology of story making." In between fierce verbal skirmishes with his maddening doppelgänger, Roth finds himself drawn into the seething, paranoiac subterfuge of Middle East politics, wrenching recollections of the Holocaust, and a nexus of spies, writers, and other professional liars. This frenzied adventure is Roth's twentieth book, and in it he has elevated the art of ranting and raving and the drama of sheer thought to new, dizzying heights.
Roth has worked out so frequently and acrobatically with fictional versions of himself that his entanglement here with a doppelg„nger insisting that he's Philip Rotha double whose visionary "diasporism" gets the hapless narrator tied up in plots engineered by the Mossad, the PLO, and God knows who elseis as logical as it is frenetically funny. Arriving in Jerusalem just after a hallucinatory withdrawal from Halcion, Roth is comically vulnerable to the double who's using his striking resemblance to the novelist to curry favor and raise money for his reverse-Zionist project: to return all Ashkenazic Jews from Israel, where fundamentalist Muslims threaten them with extinction, to the relatively benign cities of Europe. When Roth threatens legal action against the double, whom he christens Moishe Pipik, Pipik sends opulent, dyslexic Chicago oncology nurse Wanda Jane "Jinx" Possesski, a charter member of Pipik's Anti-Semites Anonymous, to intercede for him. Roth, falling in lust with this latest shiksa, finds himself slipping into Pipik's identity, spouting off diasporist speeches, and unwittingly accepting a million-dollar check for the diasporist cause from crippled philanthropist Louis B. Smilesburger. A zany ride back to Jerusalem from Ramallah, where he's incidentally delivered a loony, impassioned anti-Zionist tirade, ends with Roth rescued by a young lieutenant seeking a letter of recommendation to NYU, and the check lost or stolen. As he takes in the Israeli trial of John Demjanjuk, Roth ponders Pipik's insistence that "I AM THE YOU THAT IS NOT WORDS" and, under challenge from every side, questions his notorious Jewish self- hatred. Still ahead: antiquarian DavidSupposnik's request that Roth write an introduction to Leon Klinghoffer's recently discovered travel diaries, Roth's kidnapping, and his agreeing to undertake a secret mission in Athens for the Mossad. A deliberately anticlimactic epilogue substitutes for the final chapter that would have described the secret mission. No matter: rarely have fact and fiction, personal confession and wild imaginings, led such a deeply, unnervingly comic dance.
"One of Roth's grand inventions.... [He is] a comic genius...a living master." —Harold Bloom, The New York Review of Books
"The uncontested master of comic irony." —Time magazine
"A devilish book, nervously exuding a kind of delirious brilliance like sweat at every pore, and madly comic." —Alfred Kazin
"A brilliant novel of ideas...Roth has gone farther into his own genius than he ever has before." —Ted Solotaroff, The Nation