Summer Books 2011

Philip Roth: American Jewish Literary Legend

Roth’s Latest Award Comes, of Course, With a Complaint

Unless he wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, Philip Roth will win no bigger international literary award than the Man Booker International Prize that was announced May 18. As well as being worth £60,000 ($100,000) to the winner, the International Prize has become an instant milepost on the world literary circuit due to the importance of the Man Booker organization’s original prize. Established in 1968, that prize — for fiction written in the Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland — is without equal for its constituency. Ironically, Howard Jacobson, the current holder of that award, was often called “the British Philip Roth” in the early part of his career.

Roth’s Last Word, or That of His ‘Nemesis’

Philip Roth was the guest of honor at the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research the night it was announced he won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. Remarks by scholars at that event are excerpted below.

Unemployed Workers: Alter Kacyzne, the Forward?s renowned photographer, captioned this image from Bialystok circa 1920, ?Standing on the corner, looking for a little work.?

Cities of Jewish Success, Crushed

A vast, heartbreaking and, to English readers, inaccessible Yiddish and Hebrew library — of some 1,000 volumes, studded with unique memoirs and rare photographs — known as yizker-bikher, or memorial books, is devoted to eternalizing the legacies of the myriad cities and towns of Jewish Eastern Europe destroyed by the Holocaust. These books were collaboratively produced, mostly in the late 1950s through the early ’70s, by the survivors of those Jewish communities. But with the exception of a half-dozen or so, they are not the product of critical historical scholarship, and only three have been fully translated into English.

Sealed and Delivered: Harold Grinspoon personally delivers the 2 millionth PJ Library book, May 23.

Reading in Your PJs

This fall, a non-Jewish publisher called Margery Cuyler intends to launch the first four titles of a new Shofar series of children’s books. Although Cuyler isn’t Jewish, she told the Forward that she has always been interested in publishing Judaica. Then she reeled off her debut titles — “The Golem’s Latkes,” “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” “Many Days,” and “One Shabbat” — which she hopes will become staples in American Jewish homes.

Bagels in Beijing: Sidney Shapiro enjoys a beer and some shmear while talking to the Forward.

Sha Boli, China’s Jewish Translator, Writer and Movie Actor

On a muggy day last year, I biked through Beijing’s gray-brick hutong, backstreet alleyways, beneath a smoggy sky. My front basket ferried a batch of fresh bagels bought from an entrepreneurial expatriate New Yorker. A nosh is the usual price of entry for a chat with Sidney Shapiro, one of Chinese literature’s pre-eminent translators into English.

The Age of Idealism, Debunked

‘The personal is political” was the political headline for the international feminist movement, and it could just as well be the takeaway phrase of this intriguing new work by British novelist Linda Grant. Chronicling three generations among families, Grant, a former journalist-turned-novelist known for her reportage and fictional accounts of lefty Jews in North London, writes here about a couple who were at Oxford together and lived their married life in Islington, a gentrified neighborhood of London similar to Brooklyn’s Park Slope or Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1990s. These were neighborhoods that went from seedy to chic, where former leftists became real estate millionaires and a certain sort of Jewish intellectual struggled for a settled sense of normalcy.

Yid Lit: Linda Grant

Forward contributor Jo-Ann Mort speaks to Orange Prize-winning novelist Linda Grant about her new novel, “We Had It So Good.” In it, Grant uses the story of an American Jew in Britain to illuminate how baby boomers’ hippie beginnings actually led them to more traditional professions and lives of conspicuous consumption.

Bucky Cantor and the Idea of the Good

What is the right thing to do — what is the good? And does doing it, if indeed we can know it, bring happiness? These questions are not exactly new. They are also not exactly bad. “Nemesis” raises them rather more starkly, and elegantly, than other books Philip Roth has written. “Nemesis” also adds little twists that Aristotle never quite got to.

Arnie Mesnikoff, Unbound

In “Nemesis,” Philip Roth has written a deeply Proustian narrative of remembrance and loss in which the invisible power of the past takes its vengeance upon a 5’4”, short-sighted, earnest and physically powerful young man of limited imagination but innocent and good intentions.

Four Questions About 'Nemesis' Answered

I’ve organized my talk around four questions: 1. How does “Nemesis” fit into the body of Philip Roth’s work? 2. How does “Nemesis” reflect the plague narratives? 3. What should Bucky have done? 4. How much does it matter that Arnie Mesnikoff is the story’s narrator?