Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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mediately begin to sketch in his head a counterbook to redeem
from distortion the lives that were recognizably, to him,
Nathan’s starting point.” (TC, p. 205)
Redemption is so difficult a concept to circumscribe that Roth,
The Counterlife,
finds that he must resort to playing with con­
trapuntal mirrors. The most significant of the counterpoints
he establishes in this novel is the one which assesses, on the
one hand, the American, and on the other hand, the Israeli,
variations on the theme of redemption. The narrator sees Israel,
and especially its desert topography, as a setting most propitious
for redemption. It is otherworldly, he notes, a brave new world,
a fantastic stage on which magical things, such as redemption,
might take place. So “unreal” does this landscape seem to him
that he sees the West Bank settlement that Roth calls Agor,
not as a Shakespearean island for tempest-tossed refugees but
as a place in space. “I thought of Agor as a minute flood lit
earth colony, the vanguard of a brave new Jewish civilization
evolving in outer space.” (TC, p. 130)
But America has also played a redemptive role, and for Roth
the role that America has played, because of its non-Messianic
secular character, and because it represents the experience that
he himself lived through, carries much more poignancy. This
is how, at length, Nathan Zuckerman explains to an Israeli coun­
terpart his understanding of American “Zionism”:
I was the American-born grandson o f simple Galician tradesmen
who, at the end o f the last century, had on their own reached
the same prophetic conclusion as Theodor Herzl — that there
was no future for them in Christian Europe, that they couldn’t
go on being themselves without inciting to violence ominous
forces against which they hadn’t the slightest means o f defense.
Instead o f struggling to save the Jewish people from destruction
by founding a homeland in the remote corner o f the Ottoman
Empire that had once been Palestine, they simply set out to save
their Jewish skins. Insomuch as Zionism meant taking upon one­
self, rather than leaving to others, responsibility for one’s survival
as a Jew, this was their brand o f Zionism. And it worked. (TC,
p. 53)
To say that America’s Zionism has worked is tantamount to im­