A year ago, the late Philip Roth invited Salman Rushdie to give the Newark Public Library’s annual Philip Roth Lecture. Delivering the lecture in September of this year, as scheduled, and as printed in the Forward, Rushdie took the opportunity to eulogize Roth, to speak of Roth’s influence on his own work, and to comment on a particular conversation that made a lasting impression:
I told [Roth] that evening about my only personal experience of anti-Semitism. One summer when I was young, before I had published anything, and when I was not even slightly fashionable, I was somehow invited to a fashionable rooftop party in London, at which I was introduced to a designer of extremely fashionable hats named Tom Gilbey, whose work, I was told, was often featured in Vogue. He was quite uninterested in meeting me, was curt to the point of discourtesy, and quickly went off in search of more fashionable party guests. A few minutes later, however, he came back toward me at some speed, his whole body contorted into a shape designed to convey embarrassment and regret, and offered the following apology. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “you probably thought I was very rude to you just now, and actually, I probably was very rude, but you see, it’s because they told me you were Jewish.” The explanation was offered in tones which suggested that I would immediately understand and forgive. I have never wanted so much to be able to say that I was in fact Jewish. . . .