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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Philip Roth

Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2012

MESSAGE BY PHILIP ROTH

I’m sorry I can’t be present for the award ceremony. Late last spring I had spinal surgery from which I am still recovering. Right now travel is impossible for me and will be so for some months to come.

Nonetheless, I am of course delighted to receive your award. And I am also surprised, as one generally is, when an eminent foreign institution takes note of one’s work. I am an American writer. American history, American lives, American society, American places, American dilemmas –American confusion, expectations, bewilderment, and heartbreak—constitute my subject just as they did for my American predecessors for more than two centuries. American speech is my argot. Inasmuch as I give thought to my audience, the audience I think about is an American audience.

Consequently, I am taken aback to learn that a Spanish audience has been paying attention as well –an appreciative Spanish audience at that. What can my American stories mean to Spanish readers? How can my portrayal of American lives in my novels like American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain compete with the cliched, supersimplified representation of America that befogs the perception of my country nearly everywhere? Can a work of American fiction –written by me or by any of my greatly gifted contemporaries—penetrate a mythology of America that is, in so many precincts, rooted in staunch political animus?

I imagine that presenting me with this prize –like your presenting it several years back to my American friend Paul Auster—suggests a hopeful answer of yes. Yes, a work of serious American fiction is indeed able to pierce the ignorance, lies, and mindless superstition that can generally combine to keep the vast density of the true American reality at bay.

«Look», I may now tell myself, «there is somewhere where I’ve gotten through!»

And if that should be the case, nothing could make me happier.

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