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Friday, July 13, 2012

Philip Roth - The Plot Against America

It takes an immeasurable amount of talent to pull off a historical novel, and even more so when that history is turned upside down.  This is precisely what Philip Roth masterfully does with "The Plot Against America."  The story of the 1940 election has FDR losing to a Republican... none other than Charles A. Lindbergh.  The  novel was published in 2004, midst the G.W. Bush bashing after the Iraq invasion in 2003.  I don't say that in order to takes side, but as the novel progresses, the close-reader can detect that the hero-worship, the unquestioning devotion to Charles Lindbergh is very near the admiration Obama supporters display today.  Again, it's not a matter of taking sides, but it is remarkable how politics in America can go upside down (just like in the novel).

Roth combines what is perhaps his most accurate description of his childhood (or perhaps it was all made up) with the cyclone of historical events which he manipulates easily.  Charles Lindbergh is a Nazi sympathizer who comes to power not because of his experience but because of a rock star status even a decade or more after his amazing Atlantic crossing.  Immediately, President Lindbergh begins to implement what to the narrator and his family (particularly his father) are the collapsing domino effect which could only culminate with a pogrom.  In fact, many of their friends and neighbors immigrate to Canada.  Roth father clashes with Alvin, an orphan cousin of the protagonist who comes to live with them.  They are both rabid anti-Lindbergh and their following of Walter Winchell's radio program every evening leads Alvin to join the Canadian commandos to get into the fight against Hitler.  In the meanwhile, Philip's older brother Sandy becomes part of a government program "Just Folks" designed to integrate Jewish people and culture into the American mainstream.  He is sent to a farm in Kentucky where he learns the way of the farm, and comes back home even more indoctrinated than before--a true lover and supporter of President Lindbergh and his agenda.  All of this cause a perfect storm within a family that up until the election of Lindbergh was as normal as normal families can be.

Of course everything escalates.  The Antisemitism reaches a boiling point and, as Lindbergh becomes used to flying his own plane to different cities to be with the people, his plane disappears and he is nowhere to be found.  Now, like I said, Roth is a magician when it comes to making you believe these made-up events.  Even the ultra-amazing resolution to President Lindbergh's disappearance is a work of art and very much worth reading and losing one's self in it.  I cannot recommend this book more--it was full speed from the first page to the last, with both moments of rage and tenderness throughout.

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