A mature novel by a preeminent writer
This perceptive novel by a highly educated man of letters and preeminent American writer is based on what in eighteenth-century England was known as a "conceit" - i.e., a concept, a hypothesis, fully developed and logically pursued - to wit, that the famed and idolized aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, who was also known as a Republican, a pacifist, an appeaser, and an Aryan supremacist, won the U.S. presidency after Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office and became a puppet and eventually (it was rumored) a captive of Nazi Germany. The elaboration of this conceit not only caricatures Lindbergh as a reticent stoic who "every few months summoned the gregariousness to address his ten favorite platitudes to the nation" (does this sound familiar?) but extends to such anomalies as a Jewish woman from the slums of New Jersey dancing with Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, at a White House reception; or a learned rabbi running the Office of American Absorption, which - abetted by companies like Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that in the 1930's and 1940's were hardly known as equal opportunity employers - resettled suburban American Jews in rural hamlets where there was neither demand for their skills nor tolerance for their religious beliefs; or the murder of radio newsman Walter Winchell for his diatribes against the Lindbergh administration. In sum, this novel persuasively and memorably depicts what might have occurred had the Henry Fords, Father Coughlins, and other Nazi sympathizers of the era prevailed.
Philip Roth has written a terrific political novel, though in a style his readers might never have predicted... a fable of an alternative universe, in which America has gone fascist and ordinary life has been flattened under a steamroller of national politics and mass hatreds. Hitler's allies rule the White House. Anti-Semitic mobs roam the streets. The lower-middle-class Jews of Weequahic, in Newark, N.J., cower in a second-floor apartment, trying to figure out how to use a gun to defend themselves. (''You pulla the trig,'' a kindly neighbor explains.) The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible.
The New York Times
Philip Roth's huge, inflammatory, painfully moving new novel draws upon a persistent theme in American life: "It can't happen here." … The Plot Against America brings the sum of Roth's books to more than two dozen. It may well be his best, and it may well arouse more controversy than all the rest combined.
The Washington Post
During his long career, Roth has shown himself a master at creating fictional doppelgangers. 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 Rippentrop 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. (Oct. 5) Forecast: With its intriguing premise and thriller-tense plot, it's likely that this novel will broaden Roth's readership while instigating provocative debate. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, March 2005: Roth goes back to 1940 and creates a chillingly believable novel based on Roosevelt's failure to win a third term; instead, Charles Lindbergh, a known isolationist and anti-Semite, is elected president. Roth describes the events that lead up to Lindbergh's election and the first years of his presidency. Through the young Philip, the reader is transported to life as it was in the early years of WW II, the fictional sequence of events that create irrevocable rifts among family and friends, and the tragedies that result. The tension is relieved by some of Philip's more humorous recollections. The listener is drawn so thoroughly into the story that fact and fiction merge into a seamless "history." KLIATT Codes: SA*Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Vintage International, 391p., Ages 15 to adult.
Adult/High School-When Charles Lindbergh, Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential race, defeats popular FDR in a landslide, pollsters scramble for explanations-among them that, to a country weary of crisis and fearful of becoming involved in another European war, the aviator represents "normalcy raised to heroic proportions." For the Roth family, however, the situation is anything but normal, and heroism has a different meaning. As the anti-Semitic new president cozies up to the Third Reich, right-wing activists throughout the nation seize the moment. Most citizens, enamored of isolationism and lost in hero worship, see no evil-but in the Roths' once secure and stable Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, the world is descending into a nightmare of confusion, fear, and unpredictability. The young narrator, Phil, views the developing crisis through the lens of his family life and his own boyish concerns. His father, clinging tenaciously to his trust in America, loses his confidence painfully and incrementally. His mother tries to shield the children from her own growing fear. An aunt, brother, and cousin respond in different ways, and the family is divided. But though the situation is grim, this is not a despairing tale; suspenseful, poignant, and often humorous, it engages readers in many ways. It prompts them to consider the nature of history, present times, and possible futures, and can lead to good discussions among thoughtful readers and teachers. Bibliographic sources, notes on historical figures, and documentation are included.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
cassette 0-618-50929-1A politically charged alternate history in which Aryan supremacist hero Charles Lindbergh unseats FDR in 1940-with catastrophic consequences for America's Jews. Roth's latest (and one of his most audacious) is narrated by a fictional character named Philip Roth, who describes the impact of Lindbergh's presidency (linked ominously to "Lindy's" cordial relationship with fellow statesman Adolf Hitler) on Newark insurance salesman Herman Roth, his stoical wife Bess, and their sons Philip and Sanford ("Sandy"). Novelist Roth skillfully constructs a thickly detailed panorama of urban Jewish life, featuring such vividly developed characters as Philip's truculent cousin Alvin (wounded in a "Jewish" European war, and permanently damaged), his suggestible maternal aunt Evelyn (who adores Lindbergh), and Evelyn's influential fiance, silver-tongued conservative apologist Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf. The latter two pay dearly for their naively placed allegiances. But so do the passionately skeptical Roths: first, when Sandy's summer on a Kentucky farm imbues him with "American" (in fact anti-Semitic) values; and later, following the 1942 Homestead Act, purportedly conceived to relocate eastern seaboard Jews throughout Middle America, actually an ominous harbinger of how Lindbergh plans to solve "the Jewish problem." The tight focus on the Roths itself shifts when Lindbergh-hating columnist Walter Winchell announces his presidential candidacy, violence escalates alarmingly, martial law is imposed, war with Canada (whence many Jewish families flee) is anticipated, and a savagely ironic turn of events returns FDR to the national spotlight-but doesn't assuage Herman Roth'sall-too-justifiable fears. The story gathers breakneck velocity and intensity, ending perhaps too abruptly (and, perhaps, pointing the way to a sequel). But hilarious and terrifying by turns, it's a sumptuous interweaving of narrative, characterization, speculation, and argument that joins The Ghost Writer (1979) and Operation Shylock (1993) at the summit of Roth's achievement. An almost unbelievably rich book, and another likely major prizewinner. Agent: Andrew Wylie/Wylie Agency
Sumptuous...An almost unbelievably rich book, and another likely major prizewinner.
Kirkus Reviews, Starred
Stunning...Roth's writing has never been so direct and accessible while retaining its stylistic precision and insights into human foibles.
Publishers Weekly, Starred