Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Plot Against America Paperback – September 27, 2005
|New from||Used from|
2016 Book Awards
Browse award-winning titles. See all 2016 winners
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
"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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
The Roth family, generally enjoying the rising working class/middle class fruits of life in mid-20th century America suddenly sees its internal world ripped asunder by these big events. The Roth family is, as is most of their Jewish neighbors, horrified at Lindbergh's election and justifiably fearful of what lies ahead. Unfortunately, their fears are well founded. Roth's Plot is as much, if not more, the story of the reaction of one family to this alternate history as the story of a nation at war with itself.
If Roth can be faulted for painting his alternate history with a broad and perhaps overly simpistic brush he cannot be faulted for the depth and insight into the life of a family tempest-tossed by a society gone mad. It is nuanced and meaningful. Roth's writing can be, and often is, stunning. As has always been his habit when he is on form, Roth is capable of crafting beautiful sentences and paragraphs. By looking at world-shattering events through the prism of a young man's eyes those events take on additional meaning because they can be understood on a familial rather than on a societal level.
Roth does have some fun with the historical figures that appear throughout the book. Walter Winchell, once the country's most famous radio reporters (and also the voice over narrator of the old Untouchables television series) leads the post-election campaign against Lindbergh and his cronies, most notably the viciously anti-Semitic Henry Ford. FDR and Fiorello LaGuardia also play important roles in Roth's alternate universe.
There are, no doubt, many readers that will resent what seems to be an attack on a person with the heroic stature of Lindbergh. That may be so, yet Roth does not go over the top in my opinion and by book's end does evoke more than a bit of sympathy for Lucky Lindy. Similarly, many have asserted that Roth's approach to the 1940 election, and the quasi-fascist oppression that followed, contains a rather blunt allegory to the 2004 election campaign. To that extent, no one should doubt Roth's probably political point of view. Again, that may be so. However, as if clear from the book's ultimate resolution (which should be left undisclosed in a review) that this society can sustain and repel challenges to the type of authoritarian regime imposed in Roth's alternate history is a far more optimistic world view than some of Roth's critics may credit him with.
Possible allegories aside, this is one of Roth's best efforts in recent years and I think that there is much to be gained by reading the book, no matter where ones current political sensibilities find their home. His prose is more concise than it has been for some time. For the first time in a long time, Roth seems more interested in telling a story in comprehensible declarative sentences than in creating sentences that do little more than establish his credentials as a `serious' writer. The Plot Against America can be enjoyed on any number of levels. It is not simply a parable of contemporary society and can be enjoyed simply for the quality of the writing.
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. However, neither the plot nor the dramatic pace hold up. The author seems to run out of energy at a critical point, and has to telescope the events of the rising action and dramatic climax through a rather trite device, making these important story elements a precis rather than an exposition. And to redeem the flawed Lindbergh from a thorough demonization more harsh than he probably deserves, Roth relies on a plot twist that lacks all credibility.
Why is the book worth reading? For two reasons: first, for its portrayal of young Philip and his family, which is tender and insightful. Second, for the quality of the prose, which is flowing and evocative. And the secondary message of the story remains intriguing: that one is unlikely to fully recognize a turning point in history until it is too late to change its course; the avoidance of historical tragedy too often hinges on fortuitous events.
I would not recommend rushing out to buy this book, but if it somehow turns up on your reading table, neither would I consign it to the bottom of the stack.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Roth's take could be rewritten as it seems like a draft especially as the plot is wrapped up so quickly and the book just...Read more