The Plot Against America

ISBN: 1400079497
ISBN 13: 9781400079490
By: Philip Roth

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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

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.

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)

Ron Charles

Once again, Philip Roth has published a novel that you must read - now. It's not that an appreciation of his book depends on the political climate; our appreciation of the political climate depends on his book. During a bitterly contested election in a time of war against an amorphous enemy, "The Plot Against America" inspires exactly the kind of discussion we need.With a seamless blend of autobiography, history, and speculation, Roth imagines that Charles Lindbergh ran against Franklin Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1940. Drawing on Lindbergh's writings and speeches at the time, Roth creates a campaign for the aviation hero centered on his determination to keep America out of Europe's war. While Roosevelt enunciates complex policies in his famous upper-class cadence, Lindbergh buzzes around the country in The Spirit of St. Louis declaring, "Your choice is simple. It's between Lindbergh and war." To preserve the nation, we must resist the propaganda of "the Jewish race," Lindbergh warns, "and their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government."After winning by a landslide, he immediately negotiates "understandings" with the Axis, consigning Europe to Germany in exchange for a promise to leave America alone. Political opponents rail against the president for "yielding to his Nazi friends," but everybody knows those nay-sayers are just warmongering Jews.Lindbergh's first domestic initiative is the creation of the Office of American Absorption to "encourage America's religious and national minorities to become further incorporated into the larger society." In practice, this involves sending urban Jewish children to spend the summer on farms in the South - "a Jewish farm hand in the Gentile heartland." Eventually, the program expands to remove whole Jewish families from their city "ghettos" and send them to exciting, new lives in the Midwest. If their culture is dissolved in the process, well, that's OK too.Yes, Lindbergh comes off very bad in these pages. He spouts anti-Semitic canards that sound far more shocking now than in 1938, when he accepted the Nazis' Service Cross of the German Eagle "by order of the Fuhrer." But clearly Roth's real target isn't an anti-Semitic aviation hero who died 30 years ago. It's an electorate he sees as dazzled by attractive faces, moved by simple slogans, and cowed by ominous warnings about threats to our security.The result is a cautionary story in the tradition of "The Handmaid's Tale," a stunning work of political extrapolation about a triumvirate of hate, ignorance, and paranoia that shreds decency and overruns liberty. Roth provides brilliant analysis of political rhetoric: the way demagogues manipulate public opinion and the way responsible journalists inadvertently prop up tyrants in their devotion to objectivity and balance.But what really gives the novel life is its narrator: a little boy named Phil Roth. He lives in Newark with his older brother, who's completely enamored with Charles Lindbergh; his righteous father, who's convinced the new president is an American Hitler; and his long- suffering mother, who struggles to hold her family together as the nation is ripped apart.In a voice that blends the tones of the author's nostalgia with the boy's innocence, Phil describes the national crisis through its effect on his own family. It's a narrative structure fraught with risks, particularly the danger of making this 7-year-old boy look cloying or inappropriately sophisticated, but Roth keeps his bifocal vision in perfect focus. The result is a profound examination of the way children negotiate their parents' ideals and their culture's prejudices along the way to developing not just a political consciousness but a sense of safety in the world.Soon after Lindbergh wins the election, for instance, the Roth family takes a trip to Washington, D.C., to reassure themselves of the stability of American democracy. Phil's father is full of enthusiasm, repeating the guide's patter and pointing to the sights. He also can't resist broadcasting his criticism of the new president. "That's just expressing my opinion," he protests when his wife begs him to be more discreet, but they're jeered at and thrown out of their hotel. Phil feels embarrassed and terrified, but he's also proud to have a father "ruthlessly obedient to the idea of fair play."That conflicted response continues as young Phil struggles to keep his alliances straight in a world of baffling complexity. His brother can't say enough about Lindbergh's wonders. Their father's suspicion seems downright paranoid. When his aunt starts dating the token Jew in Lindbergh's administration, Phil can see firsthand the rich rewards of assimilation and collusion. What, after all, did his cousin gain by joining the Canadians in their fight against the Nazis, except a prosthetic leg?By the novel's climax, the conflict tearing the world apart is violently loose in his own living room. "I was disillusioned," he writes, "by a sense that my family was slipping away from me right along with my country."Victims of anti-Semitism will react in a special way (as will the descendants of Japanese-Americans interned by Roosevelt), but "The Plot Against America" is really a story about the loss of innocence, about that moment when it's no longer possible for "mother and father to set things right and explain away enough of the unknown to make existence appear to be rational."This isn't the wrathful Roth of "The Human Stain" or "I Married a Communist." This narrator is too deeply unsettled to be angry, and frankly that makes him far more unsettling to us. In a surprising final chapter, after he's neatly woven his fictional history back into the historical record we all know, Roth concludes with a small, tragic story of a neighbor whose family is crushed, almost accidentally, by the fury of racial hatred. It's a stunning, deeply disturbing episode for young Phil, and one that leaves us shaken with the narrator's "perpetual fear."http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0928/p1...

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.

Brittany

I'm not really sure how to describe this book. It's an "alternative history," book in which FDR didn't win a third nomination, and somehow Charles Lindbergh got elected instead.It was fascinating to read the book and compare/contrast and think very deeply about our political situation today: Unpopular war, pro-war president, charismatic presidential candidate and so forth. (And before anyone gets carried away and upset, I said compare and CONTRAST. Some things are clearly very different, but it is a fun intellectual exercise). It was also a cautionary tale against voting for someone simply because he is charismatic and has a way with airplanes. The tale is told from the viewpoint of a nine-year-old Jewish boy in Newark. The author is wonderfully skillful at making the events of the book seem eminently plausible, and in translating how a nine-year-old feels fear and perceives panic. I'm not sure whether this book is well-written or just very emotionally accessible (or, secret option C, that I just have an imagination easily open to suggestion) but Roth conveys the emotional sense of his eponymous character with startling clarity. This makes for a good, if somewhat tense, read. I had to keep putting down the book to remind myself that, it was OK, FDR did win the election, and we did not launch a pogrom against the Jews. The tragedy, of course, is that it did happen somewhere else. And I think that is the true genius of this book is allowing us to see how easily we could become the bad guys, instead of allowing us to feel comfortably superior to those did.

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.

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."

Spike

Given the current political climate and global trouble spots, I thought this would be about some kind of Islamic jihad being carried out inside the United States. I was only off by an entire religion and sixty years or so: the theme and the 'plot' is antisemitism. The premise is a great one: what if Charles Lindbergh had become president, and staffed his administration with other alleged anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford, Burton K. Wheeler, etc? Roth lets us see these events play out through the eyes of a nine-year old boy, with what is nothing less than amazing deftness at his craft. The characterizations are developed in a sophisticated, distant tone (as if the narrator's is looking back), yet the reader usually feels he is right there with the young narrator. The storyline is a bit hard to swallow at times: for examples his father's near-paranoid outrage at what he perceives as even the tiniest of slights against Jews. When we are close to young Phillip, the book is very engaging.I only gave this three stars, however, because the last third of the book goes into some cold, nearly academic tone that borders on a journalistic voice. It feels rushed and out-of-voice, and borders on pure telling--a fiction writer's no-no. It's as if Roth was in a hurry to wrap things up.This is the first book I've read by Phillip Roth. I hope his other works don't mine the same theme. That would get old fast.

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.

Michael

Like others here, I often found this book to be a compelling read (though there were some unnecessary bits), but ultimately, I think Roth (do I need to warn about 'spoilers'?) presents us here with a more sophisticated version of the Dallas 'it was all a bad dream' solution, where all the events of an entirely plausible American support for Nazism in the Second World War -- intelligently illustrating how other countries might also have been seduced by fascism and anti-Semitism -- are nearly completely undone by a neat ending that leaves us with an American history untouched by these flirtations with fascism and implies that really, violence and hatred and anti-Semitism weren't endemic in cultures other than Germany and instead foists the blame on the plotting of that external enemy, Hitler and the Nazis. It also all undermines the more persuasive argument so well articulated throughout the novel of how in-fighting -- within families, ethnic communities, nations and allies -- is always complicit with tyranny. A good read, but intellectually disappointing, and rather too forgiving?

Gregg

Philip Roth’s re-imagining of history reminds me of the old What If? comic books, wherein they take a specific point in history and change an event or the choice someone makes. The narrative then follows this alternate reality to demonstrate how different the world would have become. It’s like Clarence the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life when he shows George how different his entire town would be had he never been born.But in The Plot Against America, Roth chooses to ask What if Charles Lindbergh had run in the 1940 presidential election and defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Lindbergh was in real life an anti-semite and Nazi sympathizer, and so Roth chooses to study the impact such a world altering event would have on a single Jewish family in Newark, which is presumably closely patterned after his own—since he names his protagonist, a 7-year old boy, Philip Roth.I really liked the pervasive feeling of creepiness woven into the first two-thirds of the book, where there’s no outright evidence of anything but a presidency trying to keep its country out of war. But under the guise of emphasizing Americanness, government programs slowly start to attack the solidarity of predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, as large companies cooperate with a redistribution plan. It all starts to feel very nefarious, and eventually a tipping point is reached.The only real problem I had with it was the end, which seemed much more improbable, as it managed to set everything back to roughly the way it would have been had Lindbergh not won the election. I’d have been far more interested in finding out what the rest of the 20th century would have been like if, for instance, the United States had joined the Axis and fought Canada.

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.

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?

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.

Jason Pettus

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)So after a month of election obsession here in Chicago, I find my schedule of book reviews in complete chaos: nearly 20 titles read now, all of them awaiting essays, and with me still continuing to read new books on a daily basis. I thought I'd start this week, then, with a whole series of recently read books that I don't have that much to say about, either because of being older titles or not very good or whatnot; and I thought I'd start this list as well with the best book out of all of them, American literary treasure Philip Roth's 2004 masterpiece The Plot Against America, which believe it or not is actually the very first book by Roth I've ever read. And man, what a doozy to start out with, because it so perfectly captures the entire zeitgeist of the Bush years, despite the plot being a science-fictiony "alternative history" one; because, see, for those who don't know, what this book posits is a world where Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh becomes President of the US in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt, and instead of going to war actually works out a non-aggression pact with the Axis powers. And then the story itself is told as a personal memoir, with the main character being Roth himself as a small Jewish child in New Jersey "living" through the events.It's a brilliant concept, executed even more successfully precisely because of no melodramatic things taking place; under Roth's genius speculative mind, no Jews are actually rounded up into concentration camps under a Lindbergh administration, but merely a national air of hostility created towards them, a government-approved disdain for Jews that clearly affects the emotional well-being of Roth's tight-knit Jewish community in an industrialized mid-century New Jersey. And that's why this is such a magnificent statement about the Bush administration, a sneaky one that you might not even realize at first -- because Roth's whole point by using this fantastical premise is to show that you don't need out-and-out pogroms in order to create a discriminatory society, that you don't need goose-stepping stormtroopers in the streets in order to have a fascist-friendly nation. It's a fascinating book, one with a delightfully surprising ending, a novel that really floored me when I read it a few weeks ago; in fact, about the only complaint I have is that large sections of it are overwritten, and that Roth has a habit of delving into the minutiae of certain scenes in simply too much detail. Other than that, though, it comes highly recommended, and I believe is destined in the future (along with such titles as Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Max Brooks' World War Z ) to be one of the essential titles of the early 2000s, one of the books that will help explain to future generations just what it was like to live under the Bush regime. Needless to say, I am now eagerly looking forward to tackling more of this remarkable writer's ouevre.

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