The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

     Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Philip Roth retells World War II era history (and forces the reader to rethink it) in this engaging work, told through the character of a young boy with the author’s name, the youngest of a close-knit Jewish family in early 1940s Newark.   The alternative history in Plot_against_america the book is this:  Charles Lindbergh, despite his renown as aviator and darling of the American public, is considered an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer; however, he is elected president in a landslide election over Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, and the national status quo is in for changes.

     What follows is how Philip’s family comes to terms with these changes, as more and more anti-Jewish acts begin to occur throughout the country.  Government programs such as Just Folks (bringing young folks back to the land – as it were) and the Office of American Absorbtion do much to arouse suspicion and fear from Philip’s parents, who fight unswervingly to maintain their sense of familial stability. 

    Roth incorporates numerous actual historical figures from this time to flesh out the story, creating a seemless world of "what could have been."  Also, to set the reader at ease (as it were), he provides a postscript that includes a historical rundown of each key historical personality in the book, at least to show the basis of his idea for the book.  Out of sheer curiosity, I had to skip ahead to this to double check certain things.

    I think that, to Roth’s credit, he’s not totally anti-Lindbergh – he portrays Lucky Lindy as a very human character and quite populist in approach, although the "lone hero" archetype is still pretty strong here.  The dynamics of the Roth family are here at times endearing and heart rending – you feel very strongly the fear and drive that urge each member to speak their peace, and Roth explains well why they are compelled to act as such.

     I’m not a big veteran of alternative history fiction, and, truth is, this is my first read of Philip Roth’s, prolific as he has been.  If you are a fan of alternative history, give this one a whirl.

(William Hicks, Information Services)   


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