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

Tara

I began this book with sort of low expectations, for a variety of reasons: (1) the other non-sci-fi alternate history book I read recently, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, was disappointing; (2) I had a friend who did not like it; and (3) I started reading it about a year ago and put it down because it didn't grab me. But my expectations were exceeded, and not just because they were low to begin with.This book isn't your typical alternate history (taking a sci fi alternate history as typical) in that it does not revolve around describing the alternate world, it doesn't put every titillating detail of the alternate world in front of you all at once, and it doesn't spend the whole book dwelling on these differences. It is the exploration of these differences that usually draws me to alternate history, so when there wasn't a ton of details up front, I was initially turned off by the book.But when I finished reading, and thought about it, I realized this book (and to a certain extent Yiddish Policemen's Union too) actually does something more interesting and satisfying -- instead of just writing a book about the alternate world, Roth has set himself in the alternate historical context, and written a book that an author actually living in that world would write -- a personal account of one family’s experiences within that world. Towards the end of the book, Roth gives a blast of juicy alternate-historical description which is the typical brain-candy of this genre. The stuff that makes you think “holy crap, it didn’t happen like that, right?!?!” and gives you a bigger picture of how everything could have turned out so differently. Without that, I think I would have found the book unsatisfying in the end (and why I think Yiddish Policemen’s Union was a much weaker book). Roth has clearly done a ton of historical research to be able to piggyback on real historical figures and events to mess with your brain and make you try to figure out what is fact and what is fiction. (And I really appreciate that he gives the real facts of the historical figures in the Postscript -- my memory of the Real History is weak enough that there’d be a chance I’d remember this Fake History instead and embarrass myself somewhere down the road.)Also, I love how Roth turns the typical “butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane” theme on its head. The book begins employing this trope -- i.e. it’s obviously partially based on Lindbergh deciding to run for president instead of declining to do so. But it also demonstrates how even when huge, horrible, monumental things happen in the world, some things will still turn out the same.

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...

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Meghan Sweeney

Divine. This is a fantasy book in a way; a history book in a way; and a coming-of-age novel in a way. It takes place in America in the early 1940's and takes us through the journey of a Jewish family living in the ghetto of Newark. The twist is: FDR didn't get a third term. Instead Lindbergh wins the presidency. As an isolationist and a Nazi sympathizer, he keeps America out of World War II and begins to implement "programs" that help Jewish Americans assimilate into middle America. Roth deftly moves us between the weird inner workings of a 7-year-old boy's fantasies and the eerily realistic sounding history. (He even includes a section at the end giving the actual history of the people he included in the book, including the seemingly less important characters.) I really found myself rooting for the family who refused to put up with Lindbergh's shit. And it just kept getting better, as the risk was heightened and the pace picked up.

J

I’d been a big fan of Philip Roth since stumbling across Portnoy’s Complaint in college. That book spoke hysterically of the torments of a desire conflicting with one’s upbringing and one’s own better sense. Roth captured so keenly the nature of an almost self-destructive pursuit and the complexities of repression, transference, and what Dostoevsky’s Underground Man referred to as “contrary to one’s own interests…that very ‘most advantageous advantage.’” The book was hilarious absurdity yet heartbreaking at the same time, Roth spinning on a dime from table pounding laughter to gut clenched sorrow.His writing, often humorous, has never quite reached that pinnacle, though not without strenuous effort on Roth’s part in Sabbath’s Theater to repeat that initial bawdy success. His later novels have been predominantly focussed on America’s past and have been suffused throughout with an all-pervading sorrow. Even his previous novel, The Human Stain, which is rare in late Roth for taking place predominantly in current times, casts back heavily into the forties and fifties and carries in its pages a terrible melancholy.Roth sets up the story in The Plot Against America matter of factly, thoroughly, softly, the gauze of memory parting and his old Newark neighborhood of Weequahic center stage. We are treated to a quaint memory of place, and Roth spares no effort nor space in laying out the butcher’s, the baker’s, the school, the apartment houses, and the greater boundaries of Newark. He introduces us to a Roth family mirroring his own older brother and parents, making a point of drawing a completely historically accurate portrait of the year 1940. From there the story moves into fantasy, but a fantasy grounded in the painstakingly drawn reality we’ve already seen.The book opens “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course, no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or if I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.” The greater world of the book is one in which Roosevelt is defeated in his third run for the Presidency by the Lone Eagle, Charles A. Lindbergh, who wins on his promise to keep America out of the developing European war instigated by Hitler. Most Americans pass through high school and even college only knowing Lindbergh was the first man to solo pilot a plane across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis, never hearing of his later association with the isolationist America First organization, his friendliness with Hermann Gorring, and his virulent anti-Semitism.Roth cleverly comes up with twists that both fit their time while being allegorical to our own. When it became clear that an accomplished Democrat would win the election, the Republicans chose Lindbergh, betting on celebrity name recognition over competence. Lindbergh flies the Spirit of St. Louis, barnstorming from one campaign stop to another, while Roosevelt dawdles along in the old train campaign mode. When news of German bombs falling on London and hitting St. Paul’s elicits American sympathy, Lindbergh upstages the news with what’s first reported as an explosion and crash, later updated to “engine trouble” forcing him to land in the Alleghenies. How simply the media allow themselves to be manipulated by politicians has never been a new concept, and Lindbergh plays his hero status to the hilt.Once Lindbergh is President, he signs treaties with Germany and Japan, allowing the two of them to rain unfettered destruction on the rest of Europe and Asia. Eventually the President creates the Office of American Absorption (OAA), an organization that drafts young Jewish boys to go and work for eight weeks on farms. This is the first, almost innocuous step, one readers with the luxury of hindsight can’t help but view ominously, but one over which the Jewish community debates the advantages and disadvantages. Philip’s brother Sandy, an artist eager to draw farm animals from the flesh, comes back from his eight weeks labor dismissive of Jewish culture, having eaten ham, bacon, pork chops. His enthusiasm for the program propels him into becoming the statewide recruiting spokesman for the program. He is joined by an accomodationist rabbi who becomes Lindbergh’s spokesman for the OAA, “koshering Lindbergh for the gentiles,” in the words of one character.The next ominous step is a letter Mr. Roth receives detailing the Homestead 42 Act presenting “opportunities” for Jewish families to move to other places in the country “at government expense.” This is done with their employers “transferring” them to new offices of their company. The way Roth’s novel works seems exactly right to me. Instead of nighttime seizures, there is government “incentives” prompted by business “transfers.” Nothing blatantly illegal, nothing overt. That’s not how things are done in America. We are the backroom deal country, where things happen in secret, in committee. Once these Jewish addresses are vacated, in a small unremarked portion of the Homestead 42 Act, assistance is provided to move the goyim into the neighborhoods, breaking up not only Jewish solidarity as a social construct but also electoral power.At some level, Roth has gotten revenge on certain politicians from his past, working as Dante did, condemning these people to the hell of having been Lindbergh supporters, including the former mayor Newark, the Representative from the area, and one of the state senators. He likewise presents a pantheon fit for his saints: FDR, New York’s mayor LaGuardia, and all of Roosevelt’s cabinet and Supreme Court appointments.Walter Winchell is the loudest voice against Lindbergh, fired for claiming Homestead 42 is just the first step in a fascist pogrom to round up the Jews, which propels him into a run for president. And though he is castigated by the remaining press as a self-serving publicity hound, Roth gives him a speech that lends the book its title and he is presented as Cassandra, the only person of note in the book who early recognizes what is occurring. He is the media we sometimes wish we had, fearlessly speaking the truth even if it loses him his job. Winchell’s candidacy isn’t so much with any actual hope of winning the election, but is a provocation to anti-Semites all across the country. At one point he goes so far as to speak in Detroit, home of famed anti-Semite and ultra-conservative priest Father Coughlin. This leads to riots in Detroit and re-enactments of Kristallnacht with Jews on the street being attacked, bombs thrown into predominantly Jewish schools and cultural organizations and temples. Three thousand Jews flee Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The rioting spreads to Chicago and Cleveland and other cities across the midwest. Winchell’s campaign ends in his being the first presidential candidate assassinated while he's in Kentucky.The Lindbergh presidency reaches its culmination in the public funeral for Winchell and subsequent spreading of the riots, a presidential crisis, various plots and counterplots in Washington, and Roosevelt regaining the Presidency in a special election concurrent with the 1942 Congressional elections. The collapse of everything happens a bit too quickly, Lindbergh disappearing as quickly as he arrived, a shadow passing across the sun.I’d not usually provide so much plot summary, but The Plot Against America is a story-rich tale that necessitates some summary. What’s even more remarkable, considering how much story is going on in the book, is how tightly packed with brilliance it is. Roth excels in an artistry of efficiency. Every side path of the story, every wrinkle, is crafted to the novel’s greater end and message. One of the things I noted while listening to T.C. Boyle was how unnecessary so much of the story seemed, how much pointless window dressing frittered away focus, energy, and time. No matter what one may think about Roth’s legendary fixation on sex or his old fashioned chauvinism, it is impossible not to admire the obvious finely tooled masterwork of his novels.

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?

Sophia

If you don't sympathize with antisemitism and/or bigotry, then don't read this book. However, this book is fascinating simply b/c this could have unfolded with the slightest shift in events. And you know that b/c of the historical details in the appendices. And like always, Roth delivers great characters...plus any book with two Hopewell, NJ shoutouts gets 4 stars from me.

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?

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.

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.

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