The Plot Against America

ISBN: 1400079497
ISBN 13: 9781400079490
By: Philip Roth

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1001 1001 Books Alternate History American Book Club Fiction Historical Fiction Literature Novels To Read

About this book

In an astonishing feat of narrative invention, our most ambitious novelist imagines an alternate version of American history. In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh's election is the first in a series of ruptures that threatens to destroy his small, safe corner of America—and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.

Reader's Thoughts

Jojo

I do NOT life alternate history. It makes me confused about facts and usually just pisses me off. But this one is different. It's a "what if?" sort of book that feels very real. Probably because Roth inserts his own boyhood self into the narrative. It did make me hate Lindbergh, and I am not sure he deserves quite as much hate as I am feeling. I have to research that! (because the fake history has messed with my head)

Brian

I gave this book 4 stars. I probably would have given it 5 had it not gotten a bit weak towards the end and the author seemed to lose focus of where his story was going. It seemed like he wanted it to end whereas I wanted it to continue on. First off let me say this book is NOT what most of these reviewers are calling it. It is far too complex to be thrown into a category of "what-if" histories. The first thing that came to mind when I read it was that is was a memoir. In fact it reminded me a lot of Frank McCourt's work, but only much better. That is not to say that there is not a "what-if" angle to the book. That is obvious. And kind of like Harry Turtldove's books, Roth is not dealing too much with the actual history and consequences of the twist of events. He is dealing with the actual people--notably his own family and only throwing in the historical figures as they played a role in their everyday lives. Once I acknowledged that this was a very unique memoir, I read it as such. Yes I understand the author has "A Novel" posted on the cover. But it is written as a memoir and should be read in that way. You do not read biographies like you do novels, nor the Bible like you would The Odyssey. Same goes here. It is a novel because it is fiction, but Roth is a brilliant writer that can present it as a memoir detailing a specific moment in his life, but presenting it now in a way that expresses the extreme fear that bubbled within the Jewish communities of the East Coast. And he succeeds. America has forgotten in our collected back-patting and our victories in saving the world from the Nazis that we had some of the very same anti-Semetic sentiments in our own country. We quickly criticize drunken-rages by famous actors but forget that our own heros of American history held these views soberly (Limbergh and Henry Ford). And it is because of these underlying views that Roth seeks to throw a mirror up to ourselves and question how close we came to having our own (Final) "American Solution." The only thing that kept this from being 5 stars was the weakening of an exposition of "events" towards the end. It did help give background but I thought someone with Roth's writing talent and given the incredible journey he had already taken me on, he could have filled in the "historical gaps" better. And the twist of an ending, though hardly a happy one, was very unexpected and forced me to charge through the last 100 or so pages staying up late at night to do so. Read this book with an open mind and with a mind on our own dark history in mind.

Cate

My closest book-swapping sidekick disliked this one, and another friend began but put it down soon after, so I started reading with a bit of hesitation. I should say at this point that Roth's American Pastoral is one of my all-time favorites. It starts incredibly slow (i.e. I didn't expect to read in excess of 50 pages about the inner workings of a glove factory), but knowing that the build-up in this book was well worth it, I stuck with The Plot...The quality of the writing itself didn't strike me as particuarly exceptional in the way that it did with American Pastoral. In that novel, Roth's deft wizardry conveyed the dissolution and madness confined in the father's own head in a way that felt much more violent and moving than did the oblique violence and racism in The Plot. I also had problems connecting with the characters and with the pedantic feel of the book. That said, I actually did enjoy this one, the primary reason being that I was pretty much taken by Roth's imagination. I didn't have any previous knowledge of Lindbergh or the related events of the time, so as I started to read the historical facts section at the end of the book, the novel began to grow on me. I really haven't read much historical fiction, but this one's leading me to seek some out.

Antonia

It took me awhile to get into this, but I ended up enjoying it. I think I read generally for characters more than for plot, and this book was all about plot. Eventually, the characters developed enough for me to care about them, to make the plot feel less like a (fictional) history lesson, and at its best, the book did put a very personal perspective on events. But there were still way too many long passages devoted to national events and political intrigue, and not enough about how this was all developing in the characters' lives.

Kemper

** spoiler alert ** Alternate history done as 'literature'. Intriguing idea that's chilling with well thought out details of how America could have launched it's own anti-Jewish program in the '30s if things would have been slightly different. The descriptions of the how the persecution begins and acclerates seem very plausible and scary. However, the ending settles for a quick and easy 'fix' of American history due to an outlandish plot twist that jars compared with the realistic nature of the rest of the book.

Sam

Note that I will discuss major plot points in this book, including the end. If you have any intention of reading the book, don't read below. I'll simply say that I was very disappointed.I was very disappointed by this novel. Philip Roth does a good job of building the hopes of the reader that he will find a compelling and provocative conclusion to the events that begin with the election of Charles Lindbergh to the presidency. However, he fails to capitalize on them. As it turns out, things just get kind of scary for the Jews, but ultimately, their fears are unfounded. Or maybe they aren't; we'll never know because Lindbergh is spirited out of the book in a mysterious disappearance.Imagine, if you will, a story about a haunted house. Stories abound about the house and all its terrible ghouls and frights. Then our protagonist goes to the house and he hears some very scary sounds and begins to get nervous. Then he walks into a room and finds someone watching a horror movie and that's where the sounds are coming from. The End.Stupid, huh? That's how this book is. All bark and not even an attempt at a bite. All sizzle and the steak is just a picture in a magazine. Having said all this, Roth's concept is interesting. His proposals are very plausible, but Lindbergh is simply let off the hook too easily. I can understand why: even modern historians disagree about just how anti-Semitic Lindbergh was. Still, as Stephen Colbert might suggest, pick a side: we're at war. In the end, as I said, Lindbergh disappears. Roosevelt is elected for a nonconsecutive third term, the US is attacked by Japan, we enter World War II, and history pretty much rights itself. Maybe people who read this alternate history stuff like that; maybe the like to see relatively minor changes only to have things end up just as they really are. I don't. I wanted to see things get radically shaken up. Otherwise, what's the point? And that’s my opinion of this book. What’s the point?

Sean

i'm not going to lie -- i didn't fall in love with this novel from the get-go. it's not that it was uninteresting; it was. i just felt as though i should be enjoying it more than i was.at some point, however - and i'm not sure exactly when that was - i was sucked in. this is peanut butter and chocolate, a reese's peanut butter cup, if you would. literature with a capital L meets alternate history, introspective flowery meandering meets epic frontpages 128 point headlines. it's not perfect by any means, but it rewarded my patience and made sure that i'll be back to visit with mr. roth again.

Stephanie A. Higa

I made it halfway through this book and probably won't pick it up again. Frankly, it's boring. There's too much fictionalized memoir and not enough plot, let alone "plot against America." Also: unconvincing in every way. It doesn't take much for me to believe that Charles Lindbergh was a terrible person, but it takes a lot more for me to believe that he actually became president. And it's hard for me to take any of this seriously when the protagonists glorify people whom I think are also terrible:* Abraham Lincoln - believed whites were superior to blacks* Woodrow Wilson - KKK supporter, segregationist; allowed a personal rift to get in the way of his presidential duty, thus collapsing the Treaty of Versailles* FDR - signed the Executive Order that interned Japanese Americans and other people of "enemy" descentAside from these petty disagreements, there simply isn't enough imagination here to drive forward the alternate history. I might as well reread a skewed high school history textbook.

David

In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth lovingly re-creates the lost world of the Jewish community of mid-century Newark, the world of his own boyhood. Then he takes the main characters, modeled on himself, his friends and his family, and tortures them by forcing them to live through state-sponsored Nazism in America. Roth imagines an America in which Charles Lindberg defeats FDR in1940 by pledging to keep the US out of WWII, then immediately signs non-aggression pacts with both Germany and Japan, and presides over a climate of creeping authoritarianism and anti-Semitism in the US. The story is told through the eyes of a seven year-old boy—Philip Roth--part of a lower-middle class Jewish family in Newark. The Roths are strivers living in a tightly knit community of other lower-middle-class Jews. The novel illustrates the destructive effects of the climate of fear unleashed by Lindbergh’s election by showing what happens to this particular family and the community of which they are an integral part.Plot is a kind of speculative historical fiction, but it faces some of the same problems that bedevil traditional historical fiction: how to accurately and convincingly recount the historical context without turning the novel into a research dump, and without completely breaking the narrative spell. Roth is only partially successful at this. The novel is beset with jarring juxtapositions of narrative tone, as he stops the action to set up the context, and then plunges the reader back into the narrative proper, and the rapidly unraveling world of the Roths.Roth faces the added challenge of convincingly narrating historical events that did not occur, and making them flow seamlessly out of those that did. In this he’s much more successful. He wants to show the reader that, though fascism did not take root here, it might well have. History is only inevitable in retrospect. It’s almost always, to some degree, radically contingent while it’s happening. Unless you believe that all events are preordained, either by a higher power or by some kind of inexorable structural logic, then you have to hold open the possibility that even though things without question turned out the way they did, they might well have turned out differently. In the end, Roth returns the nation to its actual historical path, and the fascist interlude that he narrates is but a temporary swerve, but he does succeed in convincing the reader—at least this reader—that the history of the US at mid-century might well have taken a darker turn. Consider the following:-At the time the US had its own officially sanctioned system of apartheid. Blacks in the south were denied the right to vote and were forced to use a separate but decidedly unequal set of public services. Their second-class status was codified into law. In 1940, Americans already lived in a country where an officially sanctioned racism buttressed a social system in which a despised minority was denied equal access to employment, education, public services, and political influence.-Anti-Semitism was hardly unknown in 1940’s America—whether in the genteel version espoused by the WASP establishment or the cruder versions adhered to further down the social scale. America in 1940 was a country in which many if not most Americans at least entertained the idea that some social groups were either naturally inferior to white/Christian Americans or were superior in a potentially diabolical way, and were at least passively supportive of a political system that limited their political and civil rights. And these attitudes and forms of discrimination applied, to a lesser degree to be sure, but nevertheless, to Jews as well as blacks.-In the novel, Lindberg defeats Roosevelt by espousing a very simple message: I will keep the US out of war. There was plenty of isolationist sentiment in the US after World War One. Americans may or may not have been appalled by Hitler’s persecution of the Jews of Europe, or worried by Germany’s aggressive military expansionism, but it took Pearl Harbor to convince Americans to enter the war--an attack by Japan, not Germany. Had Japan not attacked the US, the country could have tolerated a lot more systematic murder of European Jewry before intervening. Also, remember that it wasn’t until after the war that the defining fact of Word War II, in the popular imagination at any rate, became the systematic campaign to exterminate the Jews of Europe.Perhaps the best one can say is that necessary but not sufficient conditions were in place for a fascist swerve. Also, I suspect that in showing us how fascism might have come to America, Roth is also showing why it didn’t.One of the things I most enjoyed about the book was that, ultimately, the reader never knows just how real the plot against America actually was. In the end, the book dissolves into rival, tabloid-style conspiracy theories. And because the narrative voice is that of a 70 year-old man remembering events that took place when he was 8 or 9, and because the question of just what motivated Lindbergh is never answered in the “reality” of the novel, and because the things that the narrator can reveal are constrained by what he perceived then and knows to be true now, no definitive version of events can be rendered. If Roth had chosen to adopt the voice of the truly omniscient narrator he’d be able to penetrate the consciousness and observe the most intimate and secret thoughts and actions of other characters—everyone from Philip Roth to Charles Lindberg to Adolph Hitler--and to render some kind of definitive version of events—at least within the universe of the novel. Plot feels more plausible than most historical novels precisely because it never renders a definitive version of events. It dramatizes how little, ultimately, we understand the historical forces that shape our reality.

David

This book definitely has a great coming of age story involved in what is looked at as a historical novel. But the best insight that I got from it was something along the lines of this: it warns of the dangers of big government. And by that, i mean not the actuality of large government, but how a large government can fall in to the hands of the wrong people and easily become a dictatorship or a fascist state.As a liberal, its easy to romanticize the New Deal era and all of its programs. One such program, the CCC, gave inner-city kids the chance to spend summers and other times of the year at camps, learning skills and generally being exposed to the outdoors that they rarely experienced in their day-to-day lives. SO in this novel, the Lindbergh administration introduces a similar program, but it is specifically for young Jews, so that they can live with gentile families with the overall, supposed goal of assimilating them. Of course, a number of people become suspicious of the real motives of this program, and other ways that the government is manipulating other programs to have assimilation goals. So to me, one of the questions that this novel is asking is: what if all these well intentioned, popular, successful New Deal programs had fallen into the wrong hands?I think its interesting what this novel does, because so often conservatives use dictatorships, as the one that the US is on the brink of in this novel, as a reason why Americans should fear a big government, but I think the story told in this novel (and I don't think Roth deliberately put this lesson in the story, but it is a conclusion that i came to) its not a big government that we shoudl be afraid of, but of the wrong people being in control of the big government.

Jonathan

[http://jonathan.touboul.free.fr/artic...]Cette uchronie nous emporte chez l’auteur lui-même, dans les années 40. Famille juive américaine de Newark, Sumit Avenue (New Jersey). Une ville bien tranquille, 3 synagogues concurrentes, où il fait bon être juif. A tel point que le père du narrateur refuse une promotion professionnelle pour y rester et y protéger sa famille. Mais toute cette tranquilité va vaciller, et même s’effondrer, le jour où Charles Lindberg, l’aviateur sympathisant du régime nazi et membre du comité America First, est élu président des États-Unis au terme d’une campagne teintée d’antisémitisme et axée principalement sur le refus de voir l’Amérique prendre part au conflit qui ravage l’Europe. La suite s’enchaîne naturellement : pacte de non-agression signé avec l’Allemagne, isolationnisme, l’antisémitisme latent de la société américaine de l’époque libéré, qui se déchaîne. Le tout vu de l’oeil subjectif d’un enfant juif, nommé Philip Roth. La peur. La destabilisation de sa famille. Un cousin qui part en guerre et revient mutilé pour tomber finalement dans la délinquence. Une tante épouse le rabbin Bengelsdorf, la “caution juive” de Lindberg, et qui rencontre ce charmant von Ribbentrop. Un frère qui tombe dans le panneau de l’assimilation et de la dissolution des juifs dans la société (c’est à dire l’extermination totale et définitive) et qui se retrouve à a limite de l’antisémitisme(en plus, il mange du porc). Des juifs assassinés, après avoir été personae non grata. Le Bund germano-américain et le KKK qui triomphent. Et un beau président Lindberg fier qui parcourt l’Amérique a bord de son historique Spirit of Saint-Louis.Roth a 7 ans. Les deux ans de gouvernance de Lindberg vont nous être décrits de ses yeux d’enfant apeuré. Et le livre de s’achever sur l’attaque de Pearl-Arbor que finalement on ne comprend pas. Comme dans la vraie histoire finalement. Puis l’histoire du complot contre l’amérique. Difficile à croire, car finalement moins mijoté que le reste de l’ouvrage. Mais finalement à ce moment là le roman s’est déjà refermé. On a renoué avec l’Histoire, la vraie. Et son absurdité, pire car réelle.Un des points forts du roman de Roth, c’est aussi l’annexe historique. Où l’on apprend la vraie histoire. Celle où le même Lindbgerg refuse l’investiture démocrate. Mais on se rend compte que tout porte à croire que sa popularité en aurait fait un candidat redoutable contre Roosevelt. Et le ton de ses discours, dont celui prononcé à Des Moines en 1941 (un onze septembre...), intitulé Qui sont les fauteurs de guerre, reproduit intégralement en annexe, nous prouve qu’un Lindberg au pouvoir aurait changé la face du XXe siècle. Finalement, Lindberg, l’America First, et le bund germano-américain n’auront pas eu leur heure de gloire, et c’est pour le mieux. Tellement pas qu’ils sont oubliés.Mais ce qui est fabuleux, dans ce nouveau roman de Philip Roth, c’est sa façon de donner une dimension subjective à son roman, la petite histoire qui vibre dans la grande, avec tous ses détails pitoresques qui en font un récit drôle, l’humour fût-il glaciale. Après avoir réglé ses comptes avec l’éducation à la juive-américaine dans Portnoy’s complaint, il rend à ses parents et à leur éducation un hommage. On s’amuse à le lire ; on frissone à se projeter dans l’histoire.

matt

** spoiler alert ** I gotta say, its almost solid enough to stand on its own, but ultimately the damn thing just falls flat on its face.Too tendon pop-y, too overheated, not lithe or supple as his best writing tends to be.Gotta say this was the prelude to the fall...I haven't read his last couple books and I have no plans to. the reviewers seemed to be pretty content with calling it crap and I'm sure they're right.

David

I thought this was fairly naff. We bounced between "my history of the Lindbergh Presidency for everyone who's never heard of the Lindbergh Presidency (which would be no one if there had been a Lindbergh Presidency, right?)" and an admittedly very cute "my Jewish To Kill a Mockingbird". It felt a bit amateur."...Lincoln in his capacious throne of thrones, the sculpted face looking to me like the most hallowed possible amalgamation - the face of God and the face of America all in one.""one of those skinny, pallid, gentle-faced boys who embarrass everyone by throwing a ball like a girl,""I felt deep in the virile magic of a boy masquerading as a man among men."

Anne

This alternative history ponders what might have happened had pilot Charles Lindbergh run against and defeated Roosevelt in 1940. The Plot Against America is a wonderful and surprising read -- especially in its restraint. Roth's story provides insightful commentary on how American presidential campaigns are run, our media's role in them, how we choose our leaders, the bigotry behind assimilation efforts, and how corruption can and often will run its course. At the book's end, I was surprised to recall that oft-quoted line by Bill Clinton: "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." I really *want* to believe that (if I could take comfort in succinct quotations, life would probably seem sunnier/simpler/etc. and I could be Kirstin Dunst in Eternal Sunshine BEFORE she finds out that her memory's been lobotomized), but oy, when you invert that statement, it rings equally true. Happily, this book is not just a Big Issues read; it's also about a very specific family. I get the sense that *this*, wrinkle in time aside, is the "real" childhood memoir that Roth has always longed to write. He's not hiding behind a character this time...here is an eight-year-old boy named Phil Roth who lives in 1940s Newark, who longs both for the right to stay and the means to escape.

Richard

Philip Roth is certainly one of our best novelists--in fact, he may be among the last of our Great American Novelists, that crew of writers who were renown as much as public figures as writers. Norman Mailer has opted more for the public face aspect of his career than his writing career considering the quality of his work of late, and Thomas Pynchon has no public face at all. Modern masters like Cormac McCarthy (who, age-wise, is in the Mailer/Roth boat but has only become renown in his later years, which is a shame since he's been writing brilliant work from the outset) and Don DeLillo have set the tone for work that breaches the deepest levels of humanity and the issues of life and death, and though Don DeLillo is also a social critic, he seems to be looking at us as a cultural rather than a political body. Philip Roth seems to know this, and so possibly took it upon himself to follow in the footsteps of Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Penguin Classics) to write a work that may be set in historical times (or pseudo-historical), but in many ways makes us question where we are at today. Philip Roth also continues to cross the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, as he most clearly did in The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography, working with a narrator named Philip Roth in a situation that clearly has not happened. The premise here is that Roth revises the events leading up to World War II, or at least the American lead-up, in that FDR is actually voted out as the war brews and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh is voted in on a ticket of isolationism and keeping America at peace and free from harm. But Lindbergh's anti-Semitism is quite evident ( though mostly to the Jewish only at first), and the country begins a slow turn towards America First, the idea of bringing everyone in the country towards 'real American values,' which are clearly white and Christian. The story is told through the young Philip Roth, avid stamp collector and deeply engrained in his Jewish Newark neighborhood, and we fo9llow the hardships he and his family must go through as they become more and more aware that Lindbergh wants a country free from their kind. Roth's fictional history is frighteningly detailed and thorough, showing a progressive removal of the human rights of undesirables through a steady stream of 'patriotic' acts. And maybe, it might sound familiar. Roth is out to show that the condemning of a people doesn't always come in one fell swoop but in increments, mirroring the systematic Nazi removal of undesirables after undesirables, but also possibly giving a warning about our own lackadaisical acceptance of the removal of people's rights in the name of peace, prosperity or patriotism. Of course, Roth twists away from overt commentary by writing about a country that wants to avoid war rather than engage in a battle across the ocean, which may make direct correlation a little foggier, but in the end I don't think this is so much Philip Roth's own comment on the Iraq war as it is a study on how people are willing to excuse infringements of the rights of others in the name of comfort, whether that comfort be an acceptable facade of patriotism, or in the name of safety against an enemy who may or not be plotting against us. This is truly the stuff of the classic, activist American novelist, and Roth reminds us that there is still power in such a position. But for as classic an effort this novel is, I think it also suffers a bit from being done by a classic American novelist. Philip Roth has a wonderful way of exploring situations, and he works hard in this book to make his imagined history very palpable and real and as accurate as possible. However, his parenthetical style made for tough reading at times. How wonderful it was to know how each and every movement and character connects to everything else in a web of causality, but his long explanations of the most minor events and lead-ups to entrances or actions got a little tiresome to follow. The 50 or so pages after the midpoint of the book dragged, and though the novel concludes brilliantly, and though Roth clearly has a greater agenda than to cater to my predilections, the prose reads at times a little like a history book, unquestioningly accurate on the names and places and verisimilitude, but a little tedious in execution. Have no doubt--this book is of great import and should be required reading for all who want to think they know a thing or two about America. Don't feel off-put by the ramblings of a snob like me--Philip Roth is clearly a force to be reckoned with, who will shine as a strong light in literary history for a long time, so read him.

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