A Trilogy And Epilogue
Roth's last three novels--The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson--have all dealt with the adventures, the headaches and neckaches, the ancestral burdens and complaints of novelist Nathan Zuckerman; here these three books are reprinted in full, then capped by a new, 83-page epilogue, "The Prague Orgy." Zuckerman is now visited by a pathetic pair of Czech emigres: they've come to flatter him and simultaneously to make him feel wretchedly un-beleaguered; they tell him about a manuscript by the father of one of the emigres--a book of stories, in Yiddish, more keenly alienated than Kafka, utterly saturated with the poetry of Jewish dispossession. The problem, however, is that this manuscript is in the possession of the man's vindictive ex-wife. So Zuckerman, up to any challenge if it's self-compromising enough, goes to Prague; he meets the ex-wife; he rejects her advances. (The sexual atmospheres have a kind of grey hysteria that even Zuckerman considers better left alone.) Finally he is given the manuscript of the stories. But, though written in Yiddish, the stories seem unreadable to Zuckerman. Furthermore, the state police arrive to confiscate the manuscript and rush Zuckerman to the airport--hectoring him all the way, charging him with hypocrisy. (The Czechs point to American censorship of great literature: e.g., the case of Betty MacDonald, author of The Egg and I, a "masterpiece" as far as these culture cops are concerned.) And so Zuckerman's trip is a complete folly--while his haplessnesss becomes the theme of the epilogue, of perhaps the whole trilogy: "That such things can happen--there's the moral of the stories--that such things happen to me, to him, to her, to you, to us. That is the national anthem of the Jewish homeland. By all rights, when you hear someone there begin telling a story--when you see the Jewish faces mastering anxiety and feigning innocence and registering astonishment at their own fortitude--you ought to stand and put your hand to your heart." A slight addition to the Zuckerman epic, then, but one that throws the work's Jewish themes into some strong relief.