Ron Rosenbaum

Surprising Roth Revelation

I enjoyed my two hour conversation with Milt Rosenberg on WGN, the classic Chicago radio station which is located in the Tribune Building.

I was reminded of one of the Tribune Building features I’d forgotten about. That it features a piece of stolen from Hamle’t castle. Or so it’s labelled. Not just Hamlet’s castle but the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Alamo, the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, Fort Sumter, The Colisseum, St.Peter’s, the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Alegedly. It seems that eccentric Tribune founder Col. Robert McCormick ordered his far flung world wide correspondents, to carve pieces out of the world’s great landmarks–global vandalism in effect–to bring back these pieces of stone embedded in the facade of the Tribune Building. There are also reports that some of the lazier or more honorable of the reporters just shipped in random blacks of rock labeled as pieces of famous places like “Hamlet’s castle”.

We’ll probably never know. But it’s a kind of prescient warning to be skeptical about what newspapers present as history.

Anyway inside the Tribune Tower Milt Rosenberg, a U. of Chicago emeritus professor, and certainly the most erudite talk radio host I’ve encountered, has presided over an increasingly influential and uniquely thoughtful two hour block of talk for more than a quarter century (he played a clip of a multiply intoxicated Don Imus appearing on his show back in 1981!). And book publicists all say his audience are intense book-buyers.

Our conversation ranged from Shakespeare to Hitler to the question of a Second Holocaust. In connection with this latter grim subject I made reference to Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock a reading of which had first set me thinking, back in 2002, about the potential for a second Holocaust. Thinking and writing and setting off a fierce controversy.

Milt Rosenberg remembered something about Operation Shylock I’d forgotten: that Roth maintained it wasn’t a novel. That this insanely complicated tale of Rothian doppelgangers, Israeli and Arab espionage agents and a secret Mossad misssion Roth purportedly engaged in was all true.

And that in an interview on Milt’s show when the novel came out inthe mid 90s, Roth maintained an absolutely straight face about this claim. Insisted it was a memoir not a novel. It demosntrates how the climate has changed that I don’t recall much controversy over this, perhpas because no body beleived such a wild tale could be true and Roth had played with fiction and non fiction before. I’m not sure what to make of this, what it says about Roth about the boundaries between fiction and non fiction, whether we look at it through the lense of fiction or memoir makes a difference. Is it like one of the sphinx like fake-or-real stones in the Tribune Tower facade ? Now I want to know. Will somebody please ask Philip Roth what the deal is?