Continued from page 1

Roth is characteristically feisty, witty and direct. He disparages the idea that he is a “Jewish” writer _ “I don’t write Jewish, I write American.” He remembers objections from the Jewish community to his breakthrough book, “Goodbye, Columbus,” for its references to a girl who buys a diaphragm and a married man who has an affair: “I maintain there were Jewish girls who bought diaphragms, and there were Jewish husbands who were adulterers,” he says.

Roth also discusses such literary heroes as James Joyce and Saul Bellow. He remembers the madness of “Portnoy’s Complaint,” which came out in 1969 and made him a celebrity, with strangers calling out to him and a cab driver named Portnoy complaining that passengers teased him about the novel’s sex-obsessed narrator. Roth speaks of his career in the present tense, but he also has a lot to say about mortality. Noting that a book (by Blake Bailey) is being written about him, he jokes that he has “two great calamities to face,” death and his biography, with the biography hopefully arriving first.

“What interests me here, in retrospective, is that his not being at work on a book is one of the things that made this film possible,” Sambuy said. “Judging from how I know him, had he been writing Roth would have lived through the interviews with the impatience of someone who is being unjustly distracted from his very absorbing and much more important work.”