The New Yorker reproduced notes taken by Philip Roth during informal conversations he had with Saul Bellow. The focus is on Bellow’s early works but the verbatim nature of the notes are reflective of an informal conversation between two Jewish literary giants – this is truly remarkable reading:

On France:

O.K., the Americans had liberated Paris, now it was time for Paris to do something for me. The city lay under a black depression. The year, if I haven’t said so before, was 1948. The gloom everywhere was heavy and vile. The Seine looked and smelled like some medical mixture. Bread and coal were still being rationed. The French hated us. I had a Jewish explanation for this: bad conscience. Not only had they been overrun by the Germans in three weeks, but they had collaborated. Vichy had made them cynical. They pretended that there was a vast underground throughout the war, but the fact seemed to be that they had spent the war years scrounging for food in the countryside. And these fuckers were also patriots. La France had been humiliated and it was all the fault of their liberators, the Brits and the G.I.s.

On being an immigrant:

I seem to have felt that I, as the child of Russian Jews, must establish my authority, my credentials, my fitness to write books in English. Somewhere in my Jewish and immigrant blood there were conspicuous traces of a doubt as to whether I had the right to practice the writer’s trade. Perhaps I felt that I was a pretender or an outlaw successor. After all, it wasn’t Fielding, it wasn’t Herman Melville who forbade me to write, it was our own Wasp establishment, represented mainly by Harvard-trained professors. I must say that these guys infuriated more than they intimidated me.

On growing up in Quebec:

The French-Canadian kids as they marched by twos to their classes shouted obscenities and insults at us, and I soon understood that I was a Zhwiff—a muzhi (maudit) Zhwiff at that. At six, I was enrolled in the first grade at the Devonshire School. There we sang “God Save the King” and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

In any case, this is not exhaustive, but it is nonetheless a fascinating look into the mind and motivations of a great writer and his musings on America and the Jewish condition. Tip of the hat to Eli V. for the heads up.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • That looks interesting. It’s also a compelling argument for Hebrew School. Then again, he did end up with a very very very successful career…

  • It is an interesting interview. Wasn’t Bellow one of the guys who gave Roth a hard time about Portnoy’s Complaint? Now they’re both in the pantheon (though I think Bellow’s the better writer, by a considerable margin)….

    Too bad they didn’t get to later works like Herzog and Mr. Sammler’s Planet. (Be sure to check out the latter– it’s got the virtue of brevity, for one thing– a good intro to SB).

  • Note – these are more or less the remarks I made at the American Literature Association conference in Boston in May, 2013 with the exception of some improvisation I injected concerning Bosley Crowther, Manny Farber, and Sam Peckinpah and what I believe their works can contribute to understanding DeLillo. I also used graphic examples from the films of Tarnatino and Kubrick to illustrate how auteurs repeat images from film to film.