Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2004

It's about: In this book, Roth places "real" characters (his actual family) in an alternate version of American history, basically the exploration of a "what if?" question filtered through his own experience. The celebrated aviator and rabid isolationist Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940, after which he negotiates a friendly "understanding" with Hitler. Anti-semitism becomes an accepted part of American life. Philip's family and the other Jews in their neighborhood watch violence seep into their everyday lives and try to learn how to deal with the anger they feel toward Lindbergh and those who support him. As the story goes on the pressure builds, and Philip watches as his family slowly falls apart.

I thought: I loved how Roth placed real memories of his real family in this novel. It gave it an honest sense of nostalgia that I don't think he could have done any other way. I also found it interesting that his alternate history relies on real events in history which makes it much more plausible. For example, he transposes the "seperate but equal" rhetoric from the 1960's, bumps it to the 1940's and applies it to anti-semitism. Some people find the ending to be too much of an easy-out for Roth, but I found it to be a fascinating commentary on the nature of conspiracy theories and why they develop. I enjoyed this book and it gave me quite a bit to think about.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: Anyone interested in WWII or American history would love this book.

Warnings: Some swearing and violence.

Favorite excerpts:
"The only thing we have to fear," FDR told his audience--recalling the opening seven words of a sentence as renowned as any ever spoken at a first inaugural--"is the obsequious yielding to his Nazi friends by Charles A. Lindbergh, the shameless courting by the president of the world's greatest democracy of a despot responsible for innumerable criminal deeds and acts of savagery, a cruel and barbaric tyrant unparalleled in the chronicle of man's misdeeds.