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The Plot Against America Paperback – September 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"What if" scenarios are often suspect. They are sometimes thinly veiled tales of the gospel according to the author, taking on the claustrophobic air of a personal fantasia that can't be shared. Such is not the case with Philip Roth's tour de force, The Plot Against America. It is a credible, fully-realized picture of what could happen anywhere, at any time, if the right people and circumstances come together.

The Plot Against America explores a wholly imagined thesis and sees it through to the end: Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR for the Presidency in 1940. Lindbergh, the "Lone Eagle," captured the country's imagination by his solo Atlantic crossing in 1927 in the monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, then had the country's sympathy upon the kidnapping and murder of his young son. He was a true American hero: brave, modest, handsome, a patriot. According to some reliable sources, he was also a rabid isolationist, Nazi sympathizer, and a crypto-fascist. It is these latter attributes of Lindbergh that inform the novel.

The story is framed in Roth's own family history: the family flat in Weequahic, the neighbors, his parents, Bess and Herman, his brother, Sandy and seven-year-old Philip. Jewishness is always the scrim through which Roth examines American contemporary culture. His detractors say that he sees persecution everywhere, that he is vigilant in "Keeping faith with the certainty of Jewish travail"; his less severe critics might cavil about his portrayal of Jewish mothers and his sexual obsession, but generally give him good marks, and his fans read every word he writes and heap honors upon him. This novel will engage and satisfy every camp.

"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." This is the opening paragraph of the book, which sets the stage and tone for all that follows. Fear is palpable throughout; fear of things both real and imagined. A central event of the novel is the relocation effort made through the Office of American Absorption, a government program whereby Jews would be placed, family by family, across the nation, thereby breaking up their neighborhoods--ghettos--and removing them from each other and from any kind of ethnic solidarity. The impact this edict has on Philip and all around him is horrific and life-changing. Throughout the novel, Roth interweaves historical names such as Walter Winchell, who tries to run against Lindbergh. The twist at the end is more than surprising--it is positively ingenious.

Roth has written a magnificent novel, arguably his best work in a long time. It is tempting to equate his scenario with current events, but resist, resist. Of course it is a cautionary tale, but, beyond that, it is a contribution to American letters by a man working at the top of his powers. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

During his long career, Roth has shown himself a master at creating fictional doppelgängers. In this stunning novel, he creates a mesmerizing alternate world as well, in which Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, and Philip, his parents and his brother weather the storm in Newark, N.J. Incorporating Lindbergh's actual radio address in which he accused the British and the Jews of trying to force America into a foreign war, Roth builds an eerily logical narrative that shows how isolationists in and out of government, emboldened by Lindbergh's blatant anti-Semitism (he invites von Ribbentrop to the White House, etc.), enact new laws and create an atmosphere of religious hatred that culminates in nationwide pogroms.Historical figures such as Walter Winchell, Fiorello La Guardia and Henry Ford inhabit this chillingly plausible fiction, which is as suspenseful as the best thrillers and illustrates how easily people can be persuaded by self-interest to abandon morality. The novel is, in addition, a moving family drama, in which Philip's fiercely ethical father, Herman, finds himself unable to protect his loved ones, and a family schism develops between those who understand the eventual outcome of Lindbergh's policies and those who are co-opted into abetting their own potential destruction. Many episodes are touching and hilarious: young Philip experiences the usual fears and misapprehensions of a pre-adolescent; locks himself into a neighbor's bathroom; gets into dangerous mischief with a friend; watches his cousin masturbating with no comprehension of the act. In the balance of personal, domestic and national events, the novel is one of Roth's most deft creations, and if the lollapalooza of an ending is bizarre with its revisionist theory about the motives behind Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, it's the subtext about what can happen when government limits religious liberties in the name of the national interest that gives the novel moral authority. Roth's writing has never been so direct and accessible while retaining its stylistic precision and acute insights into human foibles and follies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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More from Philip Roth
One of America's most respected and prolific writers, Philip Roth masterfully captures the complexity of the modern American experience in his novels. Visit Amazon's Philip Roth Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (September 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400079497
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400079490
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (538 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It is an oft-stated cliché that many families are but one or two paychecks away from poverty. Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" suggests that perhaps U.S. society was, in 1940, one election surprise away from fascism. The Plot Against America also suggests that many families are but one step away from falling into dysfunctionality and despair. Although such a topic is susceptible of trite, formulaic prose, in the hands of Philip Roth it works remarkably well.

The story line is rather simple. Taking on the genre of alternate history (with which he shares with no small amount of irony at least some creative DNA with Newt Gingrich), Roth imagines a United States in which Charles Lindbergh storms the deadlocked 1940 Republican Convention, upsets Wendell Wilkie for the nomination, then barnstorms the nation in a novel election campaign that ousts FDR from the White House. Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War serves as the victorious campaign slogan. Slowly, but inexorably, U.S. isolationist policy grows stronger after it signs a non aggression pact with Germany and Japan. Britain grows weaker, and Lindbergh's cabinet and the Republican congress enact a series of laws that cause no small bit of consternation in America's Jewish community.

So far, there is nothing about the story line that is at all unusual in the alternate history genre. However, Roth writes his story through the eyes of one Phil Roth, youngest child of the Roth family of the Wequahic section of Newark. This alone sets The Plot apart from what is typically found in this genre. Roth's examination of the lives of big events through the eyes of a `little' man creates a subcontext that is rife with meaning for anyone who has experienced the joys and despairs of a family in crisis.
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Format: Hardcover
I was not drawn to this book. I feared that like the character in Roth's early story "The Conversion of the Jews," whose view of history divided events into those that were good for the Jews and those that were bad for the Jews, the author intended to imagine a litany of fictional events that were bad for the Jews and somehow endemic to America. That didn't sound to me like fun reading. However, I wanted to see if Roth could meet the challenge he set for himself of blending fact with some whopping historical fiction and resolving his plot in a way that harmonizes with our present. The verdict: he failed. The surprise: the book was well worth reading anyway.

The story is told in a pseudo-autobiographical style through the eyes of young Philip Roth growing up in Newark, New Jersey during the time of the second world war. However, as the author points out early on, the fact that we know our history does not mean that our history is inevitable. In this story, pre-war isolationism finds an active political candidate in popular hero Charles Lindbergh, who wins the 1940 Republican presidential nomination and defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the general election. The new administration embarks on an isolationist foreign policy that culminates in secret accords with Germany and Japan that allow America to sidestep involvement in the war. The administration also begins a series of domestic policies that target the Jewish population for what is benignly called cultural absorbtion but may in fact be the harbinger of a domestic genocide. We see these things through the eyes of young Philip and his family, who try to separate suspicion and fear from paranoia as they sense their country turning against them.

The advancing menace and its impact on the family is well-portrayed.
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Format: Paperback
I was all set to give this at least 4 stars--and then came the last fifty pages. I haven't been this disappointed with an ending since reading "Next" by James Hynes. (Admittedly that was only a few months ago.) Amazon's review calls that ending "ingenious." I would call it "far-fetched," "ridiculous," "implausible," "deux-ex-machina," and most of the 7 words you can't say on television. It's an ending that completely destroys an otherwise good novel.

This is one of those "alternate history" novels. Only Roth's is more plausible (until the end) than say Harry Turtledove's "Guns of the South" where time travelers give machine-guns to the south in the civil war. Roth's scenario all turns on Charles Lindbergh running for president in 1940 and winning. I'm not sure Lindy could have beat an experienced politician and campaigner like FDR even if he had run, but that's not important.

Instead of focusing on Lindbergh, FDR, or any historical persons, most of the story revolves around Philip Roth and his family. (Because if there's a subject Philip Roth really loves it's Philip Roth.) Philip is 7 at the start of the book and lives in a flat with his older brother Sandy, his insurance salesman father, his stay-at-home mother, and his orphaned cousin Alvin.

After Lindbergh takes office, his parents--especially his father--fear that America will turn into a fascist state like Nazi Germany. He has reason to fear when Lindy signs an "understanding" with Hitler to maintain peace between them. Cousin Alvin goes off to Canada to join the British in opposing the Nazis while Sandy becomes smitten with Lindbergh after a stint on a Kentucky farm through the "Just Folks" program that sends urban kids--mostly Jews--to rural areas to spend a summer.
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