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Philip Roth

The Prague Orgy:
An American Writer’s Take on Communist Czechoslovakia

in Current Issue/Reviews

by Bryan Felber

“What good is socialism if when I want to nobody will fuck me?” (Prague Orgy 37). Biting one-liners like this are packed tight into the novella, The Prague Orgy, penned by the irreverent yet reputable Jewish American writer, Philip Roth. The book, which has recently been adapted for the screen by Czech filmmaker Irena Pavlásková, is inspired by the real-life visits Roth made to Prague during the mid-70s. In the fiction, the essence of his many yearly visits is distilled into a single dramatic journey behind the Iron Curtain where Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s alter ego, is attempting to rescue the unpublished manuscripts of a dead Yiddish writer from the clutches of its maniacal keeper, Olga Sisovska, and past the ever-looming surveillance of the communist authorities. In real-life, Roth was meeting with writers like Ivan Klíma, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Ludvík Vaculík, and Karol Sidon, compiling the works of these Czech dissident writers to be published in America. So the idea of saving literary talent from obscurity was an actual feat Roth successfully performed, but his visits did not leave him unscathed.

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