Philip Roth, a Rare French Literary Superstar

The Washington Post

Philip Roth is a surprising French hit. In early October, he was awarded one of the country’s highest literary honors, joining the ranks of French giants Albert Camus and Honoré de Balzac and expats Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Roth’s complete works will be translated and published in the famous Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, an anthology collection published by renowned French house Editions Gallimard.

But Roth is neither a French national nor an expat and his fiction novels, praised for their autobiographical nature, are often set in his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey and focus on the American identity. The French appeal is a mystery. The author himself expressed his bewilderment to The Washington Post in an email: “I seem to have a large rapport with my French readers, though exactly why I can’t say.”

Entry into La Pléiade is a great honor and guarantees an author recognition and a legacy in France. It is extremely rare for a living author, a foreign one at that, to be inducted into its ranks. The Bible-like leather-bound collections almost always run over 1,000 pages and are intended to be a reference of great work for generations of readers and students.

Roth, 84, has written 27 novels, notably American Pastoral and The Human Stain, which both won French literary awards for best foreign novel. Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral focuses on the American-Jewish experience but Roth’s fame in France is not strongly associated with this subject, according to The Washington Post. In fact, it is The Human Stain, which revolves around the idea of political correctness, that the newspaper credits as being one of Roth’s most successful in France. In an email to The Washington Post, Antoine Gallimard, head of the Gallimard publishing house, credits Roth’s ability to play with genres and the boundaries between fiction and reality as his winning attributes to the French.

Read more at The Washington Post.