Last night was the PEN gala, when our nation's leading literary lights like emcee Willie Geist and featured co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin gathered beneath a giant fake blue whale in the Museum of Natural History and all Twittered at each other because they had one of those big Twitter screens that everyone puts up at big events these days to leverage high-impact engagement of #socialmedia #wins. Philip Roth didn't Twitter at #pengala as far as I know, but he did brag about how many Czech girls he fucked.
Roth addressed the crowd after receiving the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award for, among other things, his quiet but insistent support for Czech writers suffering under the Soviet boot during the 1970s. He told the story of his annual visits to Prague throughout most of that decade, during which he would meet with Milan Kundera, Ivan Klima, and other repressed intellectuals to remind them that they are not alone. The visits ended after an unpleasant interrogation by the Czech secret police.
But it wasn't all heavy Eastern European existentialism and sotto voce critiques of the regime—this is Philip Roth we're talking about. When the authorities buttonholed Roth's friend Klima to figure out why this American author kept coming back every year (which by the way was obviously sponsored in some way by the CIA because come on), this is how Klima replied, in Roth's telling:
As Ivan later told me in a letter, he had only one answer to give them: "Don't you read his books?" Ivan asked the police. As might be expected, they were stymied by the question. But Ivan quickly enlightened them: "He comes for the girls."
At which point the room erupted into applause and Roth exited the stage, an 80-year-old man who just managed to brag about all the Czech girls he banged while helping rid the world of totalitarianism.
[Image via Getty]