Roth, Philip (Milton)

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ROTH, Philip (Milton)

Nationality: American. Born: Newark, New Jersey, 19 March 1933. Education: Newark College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1950-51; Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1951-54, B.A. 1954 (Phi Beta Kappa); University of Chicago, 1954-55, M.A. 1955. Military Service: United States Army, 1955-56. Family: Married 1) Margaret Martinson in 1959 (separated 1962; died 1968); 2) Claire Bloom in 1990 (divorced 1994). Career: English instructor, University of Chicago, 1956-58; visiting writer, University of Iowa, 1960-62; writer-in-residence, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1962-64; visiting writer, State University of New York, Stony Brook, 1966, 1967, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1967-80; general editor, Writers from the Other Europe series, Penguin Publishers, London, 1975-89; distinguished professor, Hunter College, New York, 1988-92. Awards: Houghton Mifflin literary fellowship and Guggenheim fellowship, both in 1959; National Book Award, 1960, 1995; Daroff award, 1960; American Academy grant, 1960, 1995; O. Henry award, 1960; Ford Foundation grant for drama, 1965; Rockefeller fellowship, 1966; National Book Critics Circle award, 1988, 1991; National Jewish Book award, 1988; PEN/Faulkner award, 1993; Pulitzer prize for fiction, 1998, for American Pastoral. Honorary degrees: Bucknell University, 1979; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1985; Rutgers University, 1987; Columbia University, New York, 1987; Brandeis University, Massachusetts, 1991; Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, 1992. Member: American Academy, 1970.



Letting Go. 1962.

When She Was Good. 1967.

Portnoy's Complaint. 1969.

Our Gang (Starring Tricky and His Friends). 1971.

The Breast. 1972; revised edition, in A Roth Reader, 1980.

The Great American Novel. 1973.

Life As a Man. 1974.

The Professor of Desire. 1977.

The Ghost Writer (novella). 1979; in Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue, 1985.

Zuckerman Unbound. 1981; in Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue, 1985.

The Anatomy Lesson. 1983; in Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue, 1985.

Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue (includes The Ghost Writer ; Zuckerman Unbound ; The Anatomy Lesson ; The Prague Orgy). 1985.

The Counterlife. 1987.

Deception. 1990.

Operation Shylock: A Confession. 1993.

Sabbath's Theater. 1995.

American Pastoral. 1997.

I Married a Communist. 1998.

The Human Stain. 2000.

The Dying Animal. 2001.

Short Stories

Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories. 1959.

Novotny's Pain. 1980.


Television Play:

The Ghost Writer, with Tristram Powell, from his novella, 1983.


Reading Myself and Others. 1975; revised edition, 1985.

A Roth Reader. 1980.

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography. 1988.

Patrimony: A True Story. 1991.

Conversations with Roth, edited by George J. Searles. 1992.

Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work. 2001.



Roth: A Bibliography by Bernard F. Rodgers Jr., 1974; revised edition, 1984.

Critical Studies:

Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth: A Critical Essay by Glenn Meeter, 1968; The Fiction of Philip Roth by John N. McDaniel, 1974; The Comedy That "Hoits": An Essay on the Fiction of Philip Roth by Sanford Pinsker, 1975; Philip Roth by Bernard F. Rodgers Jr., 1978; introduction by Martin Green to A Roth Reader, 1980; Philip Roth by Judith Paterson Jones and Guinevera A. Nance, 1981; Critical Essays on Philip Roth, edited by Sanford Pinsker, 1982; Philip Roth by Hermione Lee, 1982; The Fiction of Philip Roth and John Updike by George J. Searles, 1985; Reading Philip Roth, edited by Asher Z. Milbauer and Donald G. Watson, 1988; Understanding Philip Roth by Murray Baumgarten and Barbara Gottfried, 1990; Beyond Despair: Three Lectures and a Conversation with Philip Roth by Aron Appelfeld, 1994; The Imagination in Transit: The Fiction of Philip Roth by Stephen Wade, 1996; Philip Roth and the Jews by Alan Cooper, 1996; Silko, Morrison, and Roth: Studies in Survival by Naomi R. Rand, 1999; Philip Roth Considered: The Concentrationary Universe of the American Writer by Steven Milowitz, 2000.

* * *

Philip Roth has been writing for more than four decades, mostly about Jewish Americans finding their place in a country washed over by countless waves of immigrants searching for their version of the American dream. His name, therefore, does not immediately come to mind when thinking about Holocaust literature because Roth is a writer who usually fictionalizes people and events with which he is familiar. For example, all the stories in his first successful book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), are astute observations of Jewish life often in the area of New Jersey where he grew up. Only one of his early stories in that book, "Eli, the Fanatic," even mentions the Holocaust. While illuminating the plight of a Holocaust survivor, it subtly suggests the insensitivity of upwardly mobile suburban Jews who are fearful that the sight of a desperately poor Hasid dressed in tattered black clothes might excite dormant anti-Semitism in their Gentile neighbors. They are more concerned about preserving their new prosperity than helping a fellow Jew who, during the Holocaust, had been robbed of everything except his life. Whether Roth intended to or not, "Eli, the Fanatic," comes closer than any of his other Holocaust-related stories to making a moral statement about the attitude of American Jews during that time.

Ironically the reception to the other stories in Goodbye, Columbus that did not deal directly with the Holocaust proved to be heavily influenced by the catastrophe in ways unanticipated by Roth himself. As a young writer in his 20s, he was aware how deeply Jews in this country, feeling comparatively safe on American shores, feared that the clouds of anti-Semitism could potentially darken life here. When he wrote about certain human frailties he observed among his fellow Jews, some people worried that his writing would be just the catalyst to awaken latent anti-Semitism, a fear Roth considered unfounded.

In The Ghost Writer (1979) Roth fictionalizes the real-life debate that ensued between himself and his critics. The novella also looks at what it means to be a writer, comparing Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's literary alter ego, to Anne Frank. Zuckerman suggests that his stories of Jewish life are not judged by the same criteria as a Holocaust story like The Diary of Anne Frank. This quiet criticism implying the exaggerated literary merits of Holocaust stories is softened in Epilogue: The Prague Orgy (1985), the last story in Zuckerman Bound (1985). Zuckerman finds that he, too, is attracted to stories of life during the Holocaust because they represent resistance on the part of their authors toward repressive politics. Totalitarian regimes like the Nazis' attempt to quash freethinking and limit the expression of art. The freedom of the artist to develop his ideas has been one of Roth's lifelong interests. Although Roth briefly mentions Holocaust survivors and their stories in two other books, The Professor of Desire (1977) and Patrimony (1991), he focuses most intently on the Holocaust in Operation Shylock (1993), where stories about the Holocaust serve as a way to talk about writing, in general, and, more specifically, about the value of fiction to illuminate truth. To accomplish that, Roth incorporates some real-life elements into his novel: the trial of John Demjanjuk, an alleged Nazi war criminal, and a discussion with the Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld . This intermingling suggests that for Roth the Holocaust is a perfect example of his belief that there is much truth in fiction and much fiction in what we believe to be the truth.

—Ellen Gerstle

Daniel Walden

See the essays on "Eli, the Fanatic,"The Ghost Writer, Operation Shylock: A Confession, and Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue.