A slap at Philip Roth – or a dig at American writers?
A Booker International Prize judge quits when the award goes to Philip Roth.
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Callil differed sharply from her cojudges' opinions and shared her grievances with Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The prize, Callil wrote in her Guardian Review column, failed to celebrate the many foreign writers whose works are available in translation, honoring instead “yet another American author.”
What, exactly, is Callil charging in her staunch opposition?
That she simply finds Roth’s body of work unworthy? Or that she considers his novels degrading to women? (There may be a behind-the-scenes row at work, here, as well. Callil is the founder of the feminist Virago Press, which in 1996 published a memoir by Roth’s ex-wife, Claire Bloom, “Leaving a Doll’s House,” which maligned Roth and their troubled marriage. Roth struck back in 1998 with “I Married a Communist,” a score-settling jab at his ex-wife. He has also long been attacked by feminists for his work, which often portrays women in a less-than-flattering light.)
In singling out American authors in her grievance, is Callil suggesting that Americans are overshadowing other worthy writers and threatening to dominate another international contest? (Past Booker International winners have included an Albanian, a Nigerian, and a Canadian.)
Or is she resuscitating a controversial opinion put forth by Nobel judge and permanent secretary Horace Engdahl in 2008 that American writers are “too isolated, too insular,” and therefore unworthy of such a prize? When she says Roth “goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book,” is she charging him with a form of insularity?
Callil will elaborate on her grievances in a Guardian editorial this Saturday. You can bet Americans writers are awaiting it with bated breath and sharpened pencils.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.