OPERATION SHYLOCK

A CONFESSION

Roth has worked out so frequently and acrobatically with fictional versions of himself that his entanglement here with a doppelganger insisting that he's Philip Roth—a double whose visionary "diasporism" gets the hapless narrator tied up in plots engineered by the Mossad, the PLO, and God knows who else- -is 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 David Supposnik'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.

Pub Date: April 8, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-70376-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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