April 12, 1993 12:00 PM

by Philip Roth

In his 20th book, Roth plays plenty of serious literary games, but they burst with passion, humor and fascinating absurdity. Operation Shylock is in fact a species of international thriller—one that, in its funny, brainy, uniquely Rothian way, rivals Le Carré’s.

In this first-person tale, Roth goes further than ever in mischievously weaving the facts of his life into the fabric of his fiction. As the story begins, in 1988, he discovers that a man calling himself Philip Roth, and physically resembling him, is giving interviews in Israel while he, the real Roth, is recuperating at home in Connecticut from a nervous breakdown brought on by overreliance on the sedative Halcion. The real Roth flies to Jerusalem to confront the false Philip, who is on a bizarre campaign to promote “Diasporism,” the idea that Jews should vacate Israel and return to the Europe they fled after the Holocaust. The conflict between the two Roths eventually expands to become enmeshed in schemes involving the Israeli secret service, the Palestinian intifada, propaganda for and against anti-Semitism and—this being a Roth book, after all—the erotic wiles of the faker’s girlfriend, a sexy, buxom, Chicago nurse named Jane “Jinx” Possesski.

Roth has become such a profound and magisterial stylist that his absolutely hilarious side is routinely overlooked. Readers of Operation Shylock will find dozens of brilliant conversations between characters that illuminate our media-mad world. Israeli politics and the tangled webs that bind American and Israeli Jews. Roth also handles the comic possibilities of his dilemma with a dazzling display of self-mockery. In the unfair fight between Roth and his doppelgänger, the author’s most devastating weapon is laughter. (Simon & Schuster, $23)

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