Navigate to News section

And So, He Won

Why Philip Roth shouldn’t have won the Nobel prize

Liel Leibovitz
October 11, 2013
Philip Roth. (Reuters / Eric Thayer)
Philip Roth. (Reuters / Eric Thayer)

For full coverage of Philip Roth’s Nobel Prize, please click here.

And so, he won. Good for him. It was inevitable, I suppose, the logical next step in his trajectory. Once, on a panel, I compared his career to that of Britney Spears: You start off a wholesome All-American; then you go nuts—shave your head, say, or write about fucking a liver—and you’re an enfant terrible, someone worth watching more for the color of their controversies than for the quality of their work; then you hang back for a spell and re-emerge as wiser and mature, a chronicler of our common pursuits, with deeper, more nuanced works like The Ghost Writer or “Work Bitch.” A Nobel is the last and most obvious station: He won it today, Spears may soon.

And so, he won. If nothing else, it is a testament to how universally loved he truly is. I have always thought that his appeal was primarily nostalgic, that his readers swooned because in Zuckerman et al., they saw themselves, uncomplicated facsimiles of specifically middle-class, mid-century American Jewish life, as immediately recognizable as those menus that feature colorful photographs of the food items they offer. I was wrong: They love him in Stockholm, love him as they had loved Bellow and Singer, love him because they believe that his work speaks of the human condition rather than just burrowing deeper into own his neuroses and preoccupations, love him because they believe he contains multitudes.

And so, he won. If nothing else, we’ve another Jew to add to those emails we send and receive every so often, the ones that remind us that although we’re a tiny percentage of the world’s population, our people are disproportionately represented among Nobel laureates. That, in of itself, is heartwarming.

And so, he won.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.