Roth and the holocaust

Michael Rothberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


For most reflective American Jews, I would think, it is simply there, hidden, submerged, emerging, disappearing, unforgotten. You don’t make use of it-it makes use of you.1 The Holocaust, American-style In Philip Roth’s 1983 novel The Anatomy Lesson, the mother of Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s alter ego, develops a brain tumor. Admitted into the hospital for the second time, Zuckerman’s mother was able to recognize her neurologist when he came by the room, but when he asked if she would write her name for him on a piece of paper, she took the pen from his hand and instead of “Selma” wrote the word “Holocaust,” perfectly spelled. This was in Miami Beach in 1970, inscribed by a woman whose writings otherwise consisted of recipes on index cards, several thousand thank-you notes, and a voluminous file of knitting instructions. Zuckerman was pretty sure that before that morning she’d never even spoken the word aloud.2 In succinct, enigmatic fashion, this passage captures the complex form that memory of the Holocaust has taken in American life and in Roth’s work. The carefully situated mother’s death-in Miami Beach in 1970-testifies to the belated and displaced effect of the European catastrophe on Jewish-American identity. Alternately “disappearing” from and “emerging” into Jewish-American consciousness, as Roth once remarked in an interview, Holocaust memory has a history that Roth’s fiction both reflects and anatomizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Philip Roth
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139001304
ISBN (Print)9780521864305
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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