Large Print Reviews
The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth
The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth
Thorndike Press, 2005
Large Print Edition
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - April 4, 2005
Could the Holocaust have happened in America? Would American have stood idly by while their fellow American's where segregated and shunned by political decree? What would have happened in the United States, during World War II if the Americans had sided with the Nazis? These are a few of the chilling question that Philip Roth answers in The Plot Against America, and the answer is all to painfully clear.
Given the right circumstances and the right propaganda, humans have proven, time and time again, that a dominant group will willingly stand aside and let another, weaker group, be shunned and tormented, just because they are different. It happened here in the US during World War II when thousands men, women, and children who were American citizens of Japanese decent where deprived of their livelihoods and homes and sent to inhospitable prison camps. And many readers of this book may be too young to remember, but not so long ago, it was not unusual to see signs throughout regions of the United States that declared "No Blacks served here!" Nor was it unusal to be told, especially if you 'looked' Jewish that a hotel, beach, or club was 'restricted' meaning that Jews were not allowed in. There were even quotas limiting the number of Jews allowed to study at certain Ivy League universities. Unbeknownst to many, in some areas, the restrictions imposed upon Jews going to some hotels and clubs lasted well into the 1960's, and some cases, even beyond.
In this book, Roth uses his own family as the main characters, and he has set the story in the years just after 1940. In this alternative history, FDR lost the 1940 presidential election to Charles A. Lindbergh. A isolationist and antisemite, Lindbergh soon forms an 'understanding' with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. As in Europe when a country sided with the Nazis or when they were overrun, anti-Jewish laws soon become the norm throughout the US.
In this haunting tale, the Roth family was living in Newark, New Jersey. One of the most fearful events that Roth recounts in this fictional history is the government's relocation program in which they try to disperse the Jewish population around the country, thereby breaking up family groups and established Jewish communities.
Lindbergh was, in real life, and antisemite, and he blamed the Jews for pushing America into war with Germany. Roth has interwoven some of Lindbergh's own words into the fabric of this novel, allowing him to denounce himself via his own speeches. Other historic personalities that appear in this book include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fiorello H. La Guardia, Walter Winchell, Burton K. Wheeler, and Henry Ford. Roth also shows just how easily other politicians swing over to Lindbergh side, currying favor by enacting new anti-Jewish laws and creating a palpable sense of fear throughout the land. Not too dissimilar to what happened after 9/11 when Bush and the political elite actively sought to foster a sense of fear and panic in order to push through a series of laws that seriously curtailed the privacy and liberty of ordinary Americans - all under the guise of National Security. Worse, due to this 'sense of fear' few have complained, absurdly accepting that the curtailment of their own freedoms would make them safe.
The Plot Against America is a dark tale. Yet while the fear felt by the Roths and their fellow Jews is discernible and understandable, this is also a story filled with lighter moments that are both stirring and humorous. It is also an excellent work of fiction that is well-plotted with several unexpected twists that helps to maintain the suspense of this novel until its unexpected conclusion. One of the subplots of this novel follows how the Roth family, which consists of the parents, Bess and Herman and their two sons, Philip and Sandy, deal with the trauma and personal hardships that they must endure during the Lindbergh presidency.
While 'just' a work of fiction, this book is also important as a means of starting a dialog about what might have happened, and about what yet could occur. Antisemitic crimes are on the rise around the world, the Holocaust is, to many, ancient history, and once again politicians and other influential people are taking the stand to blame the Jews for all the worlds ills. I found Roth's premise to be believable, as I do the notion that something similar - either against the Jews or some other ethnic - could occur in the future. As such, I see The Plot Against America not only as a excellent work of fiction, but also as a call for every American to fight injustice wherever it is found.
For those interested in some of the historical details that Roth used in creating this story, this book includes an informative postscript in the form of four sections:
- Note to the Reader - which lists the sources that Roth consulted in writing this book.
- A True Chronology of the Major Figures - this section provides a brief, chronological outline of the major events in the lives of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles A. Lindbergh, Fiorello H. La Guardia, Walter Winchell, Burton K. Wheeler, and Henry Ford.
- Other Historical Figures in the Work - additional, albeit more concise bios, of some of the other historical figures that make brief appearances in the book. These include Louis D. Brandeis, Amelia Earhart, William Randolph Hearst, Heinrich Himmler, and Gerald L. K. Smith.
- Some Documentation - excerpts from a couple of Lindbergh's speeches.
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