Nathan Zuckerman, a promising 23-year-old author of short stories and protagonist of Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer, is invited by the established storyteller E. I. Lonoff to his farmhouse, which overnight becomes a place of self-reflection for all those present—the two authors, Lonoff’s wife Hope and his former student Amy Bellette—, though the next morning doesn’t suggest any solutions for the conflicts, dissatisfactions, and wishes of the four protagonists and leaves things unconcluded.
Nathan hasn’t been talking to his father for three weeks after having been accused to do harm—by means of his latest story—not only to the family’s but to all the Jews’ reputation, which even led to him being blamed for anti-Semitism. While Nathan idolizes Lonoff and the kind of life he’s living, the elder is bored and annoyed by his writing existence, since he is doing nothing but turning around and around again the sentences he has composed, and hates any diversions and noises, any so-called pleasures imposed by the family life, any social duties, which only distract him from the process of writing. His wife Hope is fed up with feeling disruptive and superfluous, fed up with having no social life and pretending not to be there and not to have needs.
And last Amy, who doesn’t only consider Lonoff a fatherly teacher whom she owns a lot, but she actually is his lover and wants him to come with her to live in Europe. Attracted by her beauty and her mysterious air and curious to know about her past, Nathan imagines her to be Anne Frank—indeed he sees a slight resemblance—who did not die in the concentration camp like the whole world believes, but who is alive and decided to hide her existence in order to avenge »the motherless, fatherless, sisterless thing« she is: »I wanted tears, I wanted their Christian tears to run like Jewish blood, for me. I wanted their pity—and in the most pitiless way. And I wanted love, to be loved mercilessly and endlessly, just the way I’d been debased. I wanted my fresh life and my fresh body, cleansed and unpolluted. And it needed twenty million people for that. Twenty million ten times over«.
But when Nathan tries to make Amy-Anne reveal her secret, she doesn’t react in the way he expected or hoped her to, she’s elusive, and her story remains vague. As vague and unconcluded as everyone else’s story in this novel. The four protagonists are unsatisfied by their lives or by their current situations, and yet unable to change their conditions. The Ghost Writer, first published in 1979, is about identity—especially the American Jewish one—, about dealing with the own past and with history, about writing, the power of words, and the author’s responsibility to his subjects: motifs which recur in many Roth works.
Philip Roth: The Ghost Writer. Vintage, London 2005, 192 Seiten. / Philip Roth: Der Ghost Writer. Aus dem Amerikanischen von Werner Peterich. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2004, 240 Seiten.