Shop Talk, A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work

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The legendary author’s essays and interviews explore how fellow writers from Milan Kundera to Edna O’Brien are influenced by time, place, and politics. In Philip Roth’s intimate intellectual encounters with an international and diverse cast of writers, they explore the importance of region, politics, and history in their work and trace the imaginative path by which a writer’s highly individualized art is informed by the wider conditions of life. Milan Kundera and Czechoslovakia, Primo Levi and Auschwitz, Edna O’Brien and Ireland, Aharon Appelfeld and Bukovina, Ivan Klíma and Prague, Isaac Singer and Warsaw, Bruno Schulz and Poland — what is the intricate transaction between the susceptible writer and the provocative time and place? Roth’s questions go to the original conditions that stimulate the narrative impulse, and he puts them to writers who are as attuned to the subtleties of literature as to the influence of the surrounding society. Also included here are appreciative portraits of two of Roth’s late friends, each transfixed till the end by his artistic vocation — the writer Bernard Malamud and the painter Philip Guston — as well as several cartoons drawn by Guston, a gift to Roth to illustrate his novella THE BREAST and printed here for the first time. SHOP TALK concludes with Roth’s essay “Rereading Saul Bellow,” a vivid presentation of Bellow’s achievement and, in the spirit of this collection, very much a colleague’s reading.

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