Philip Roth vinner Internasjonale Bookerprisen 2011

Den amerikanske forfatteren Philip Roth har vunnet den Internasjonale Bookerprisen for 2011.  Denne litterære giganten har vært nominert samtlige tre ganger prisen har vært utdelt tidligere.  Han nevnes også jevnlig som en sterk kandidat til Nobelprisen i litteratur.  Siden han debuterte med Goodbye, Columbus i 1950 har Philip Roth har skrevet 31 romaner.  Blant de mest kjente er  American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998) og The Human Stain (2000).

Philip Roth har vunnet en rekke amerikanske priser opp gjennom årene, inkludert the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral.

Stephen Amidon har skrevet en fantastisk artikkel som er en GUIDE TO PHILIP ROTH som jeg her gjengir i sin helhet.  Den ble publisert i The Times i september 2007 og jeg håper dere vil ha glede av den:

PHILIP ROTH is America’s greatest living novelist. His books are the most widely anticipated literary events on both sides of the Atlantic – no other writer working today mixes universal critical acclaim with such broad popularity. His latest book, Exit Ghost (his 28th), is due out next month, and is certain to be the most important of the season.

Roth was born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest child of Herman and Bessie Roth, first-generation Jewish-Americans. He graduated from high school at the age of 16 and went on to study with Saul Bellow at the University of Chicago. His debut novel, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), earned him the National Book Award – the first of many big prizes – but it wasn’t until the raunchy, hilarious Portnoy’s Complaint, in 1969, that he became a bestseller. Although always popular, Roth’s work underwent a resurgence during the 1990s, when, over an astonishing five-year period, he won all four of America’s leading literary prizes – for four different books.

One of the keys to his success is his ability to discuss the weightiest of topics – faith, marriage, family – while at the same time being the sexiest writer in the business. Ever since Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth’s work has been characterised by a feverish interest in sex that occasionally teeters on the edge of the pornographic. Yet his work also remains a highly serious discussion of man’s tenuous place in an increasingly hostile world. Like so many prophets before him, Roth sees man as a fallen creature. It’s just that he usually sees man as falling into bed.

The other hallmark of Roth’s work has been its playfully autobiographical nature. He has famously said that his writing has always been about “making fake biography”. Roth-watchers are constantly looking for evidence of the author’s personal life in his writing – whether it be his feelings toward his mother, his two spectacularly failed marriages or his uneasy relationship with fame. To deflect some of this attention, the reclusive author has created the surrogate character Nathan Zuckerman, a randy Jewish-American author who shot to fame with the publication of a scandalous novel. Zuckerman is one of literature’s great creations, a wise-cracking, bed-hopping trickster who allows his author to keep one step ahead of his readership. Exit Ghost is rumoured to be his last gasp. Maybe, maybe not. Let’s just hope it isn’t Roth’s.



Roth’s fiction provides an unabashedly phallocentric view of the world – hardly surprising for an author who once wrote a novel called My Life as a Man (1974). Male sexuality is his great, overriding theme. And he has made a good living at it, too – his first sexually explicit novel, Portnoy’s Complaint, sold 400,000 hardback copies and made him a literary star. Since then, his fiction has been rife with bawdy, unabashed descriptions of the sexual act. Roth’s men are always on the prowl, even if, like Coleman Silk in The Human Stain (2000), they need Viagra to put a spring in their step. From Alex Portnoy’s confession that adolescence meant “half my waking life spent locked behind the bathroom door” to the minute descriptions that 70-year-old David Kepesh provides of his young lover’s genitalia in The Dying Animal (2001), Roth has written about sex with a candour that has no equal among serious novelists. This has, of course, drawn the outrage of the prudish, and made Roth as big a target, for feminists, as Norman Mailer. And it is true that his female characters can often appear rather less than human. His response has always been that he simply “writes about the lives of men”.


Although he bristles at being a called a Jewish writer, that is exactly what Roth is. His work has constantly addressed what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. The early books were, in many ways, “complaints” against the stultifying effect of Jewish culture and tradition on his burgeoning artistic imagination, and drew a chorus of criticisms from fellow Jews that Roth was self-hating and even antisemitic. (Irving Howe, the eminent Jewish-American critic, famously claimed that “the cruellest thing anyone can do with Portnoy’s Complaint is read it twice”.) Roth’s later work has proven less mutinous toward his heritage, particularly the loving, nuanced portrait of a Jewish community besieged by a pro-Nazi US government in The Plot Against America (2004).

Charges of antisemitism become all the more absurd when one notes Roth’s record as a champion of European Jewish writers such as Primo Levi, whose voices were muffled by communism and the Holocaust. In the end, Roth, like his favourite character, Nathan Zuckerman, appears to be “a Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness, without a temple or an army or even a pistol, a Jew clearly without a home, just the object itself, like a glass or an apple”. But a Jew nonetheless.


Roth may look at his native country through the prism of Jewish assimilation, but that does not prevent him from being one of America’s most acute observers, particularly in the series of big novels he has written in the past decade.

American Pastoral (1997), which details a father’s search for his radical daughter in post1960s America, is a brilliant dissection of the limits of prosperity and idealism, while I Married a Communist (1998) presents a memorable portrait of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. The Human Stain expands Roth’s vision of race and assimilation in an unexpected direction by telling the story of a light-skinned African-American writer who was able to “pass” as white. Roth also took on Nixon, in Our Gang (1971), and tackled baseball, with The Great American Novel (1973). With the possible exception of Saul Bellow, briefly his mentor, no other novelist provides a more comprehensive portrait of what it means to be an American intellectual in the latter half of the 20th century.


The fame and controversy that arrived after the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint was so intense that Roth felt compelled to create a fictional surrogate to take the heat – Nathan Zuckerman, a Jewish writer who himself became notorious after writing a book called Carnovsky (whose plot sounds suspiciously like that of Portnoy’s Complaint). Zuckerman, who has so far featured in 10 of Roth’s books, can perhaps best be seen as a sort of pressure-release valve for his creator – the critic Michael Wood refers to Zuckerman as Roth’s “alter id”. He is a surrogate who allows Roth to write about his own emotional and intellectual life without indulging in pure autobiography. Zuckerman even gave Roth the opportunity for payback against Howe, who was reconfigured as the pompous Milton Appel in Zuckerman Bound (1985). Early on, Zuckerman was a highly active character, a writer whose sexual and professional lives were so comprehensively rendered that it was hard to think of him as being merely the product of an author’s imagination. Then, in The Counterlife (1987), Zuckerman died of a heart attack – or maybe he didn’t. Sure enough, he subsequently reemerged, though he is no longer a randy, globetrotting, self-centred seducer and literary operative, but rather a wise and dispassionate observer who narrates American Pastoral and The Human Stain.


Roth once famously claimed that “making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life”. Elsewhere, he describes his literary mission as making “serious mischief”.

Roth loves to wrong-foot readers, to pull their legs. In Operation Shylock (1993), he describes with a perfectly straight face how he served as an Israeli spy in Greece, only to conclude the book by telling the reader that “this confession is false” – a claim he then laces with ambiguity by elsewhere suggesting that Mossad made him put it in the book. In The Counterlife, both of Roth’s main characters die, only to come back to life. His “novelist’s autobiography”, The Facts (1988), concludes with a long rebuttal by Zuckerman, who accuses Roth of being “the least completely rendered of all your protagonists”. Roth’s sense of mischief seemed to catch up with him in 1989, when a man claiming to be Roth appeared in Israel to advocate the dissolution of the Jewish state. In response, the old trickster, writing in the New York Times in 1993, seemed contrite – “Those whom I’ve offended should be happy to hear that I now have more than a faint idea of why they have wanted to kill me and of what, rightly and wrongly, they have been through”.


Roth has been twice divorced, and it’s difficult to judge which break-up was nastier – or more influential. He separated from his first wife, Margaret Martinson, in 1963. Their train-wreck marriage provided material for several novels. Martinson inspired “The Monkey” (Mary Jane Reed) in Portnoy’s Complaint and Maureen Tarnopol in My Life as a Man, the latter a monstrous man-wrecker who tricks her writer husband into marriage (something Roth swears Margaret did to him by buying urine from a homeless woman before her pregnancy test). In 1990, he married the British actress Claire Bloom, his longtime companion, though the couple divorced five years later, in a split so acrimonious that Bloom felt compelled to write a scathing account of the marriage, Leaving a Doll’s House (1996). In it, she describes Roth as a controlling, misogynistic monster who forced Bloom’s 18-year-old daughter out of the house because her conversation bored him. In response, Roth created the spoilt actress Eve Frame in I Married a Communist, a social climber who ruins her husband’s life by writing a tell-all autobiography.


Family relations have always stood at the heart of Roth’s work. Portnoy describes his overbearing mother, Sophie, as “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met”, and it’s safe to say that Roth feels the same about his own mother, Bessie, though she is more saint to him than monster: “My mother was one of those devoted daughters of Jewish immigrants who raised housekeeping in America to a great art. (Don’t talk to anyone in my family about cleaning – we saw cleaning in its heyday.)” His father, Herman, an insurance salesman, looms equally large in the author’s imagination, inspiring Patrimony (1991), a deeply moving account of the elder Roth’s last days.


He has published 28 books since his 1959 debut, Goodbye, Columbus, and there appears to be no stopping the man as he nears his 75th birthday. What is most remarkable about Roth’s abundant creativity is that it has only appeared to increase as he gets older.


As Roth ages, so do his protagonists. Death has replaced sex – well, almost – as their central obsession. In The Dying Animal, David Kepesh claims that, with old age, “you real-ise that all those bodily parts invisible up to now (kidneys, lungs, veins, arteries, brain, intestines, prostate, heart) are about to start making themselves distressingly apparent, while the organ most conspicuous throughout your life is doomed to dwindle into insignificance”. Last year’s Every-man, meanwhile, is a veritable shopping list of the indignities of old age – its narrator jokes that if he were to write an autobiography, he would call it The Life and Death of a Male Body. And Roth’s upcoming novel bears an ominous, but characteristically playful title, borrowed from Shakespeare – Exit Ghost.


Twenty years ago, Roth might have cracked the top 10 of America’s best living writers, but the astonishing burst of authorship of the 1990s has propelled him right to the top of the heap.

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  1. Kjempespennende blogg du har! Her var det mange gode tips og innlegg.

    • Tusen takk! Det var et stort kompliment å få fra deg med den fantastiske bloggen du har:-))

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