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Philip Roth''s bestselling alternate history novel--the chilling story of what happens to one family when America elects a charismatic, isolationist president--is soon to be an HBO limited series.

In an extraordinary feat of narrative invention, Philip Roth imagines an alternate history where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to heroic aviator and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh. Shortly thereafter, Lindbergh negotiates a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.

For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh''s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America-and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.

Review

“A terrific political novel. . . . Sinister, vivid, dreamlike . . . creepily plausible. . . . You turn the pages, astonished and frightened.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Huge, inflammatory, painfully moving. . . . Far and away the most outward-looking, expansive . . . book Roth has written.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Roth’s most powerfrul book to date. Confounding and illuminating, enraging and discomfiting, imaginative and utterly–terrifyingly–believable.” -- San Francisco Chronicle

“Once again, Philip Roth has published a novel that you must read–now . . . . A stunning work.” –The Christian Science Monitor 

“It’s not a prophecy; it’s a nightmare, and it becomes more nightmarish–and also funnier and more bizarre–as is goes along. . . . [A] sinuous and brilliant book, with its extreme sweetness, its black pain, and its low, ceaseless cackle.” –The New Yorker

“Ambitious and chilling. . . a breath-taking leap of imagination. . . . The writing is brilliant.” –USA Today

“Intimately observed characters in situations fraught with society’s deepest, most bitter tensions. . . . Too ingeniously excruciating to put down.” –Newsweek

“Never has [Roth’s voice] been more nuanced . . . beautifully particularized. . . . [A] novelist who for 45 years has been continuously reinventing himself, never more notably than in The Plot Against America.” –The Boston Globe

“Ingenious . . . Roth’s gorgeous and forceful prose, which swirls and dances and rages . . . has never seemed more precise and lucid.” –Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth) 

“Raises the stakes as high as a patriotic novel can take them. . . . Effortlessly, it seems, Roth has led us to suspend disbelief; then he makes us believe; then he suspends this belief and finally removes it. . . . A fabulous yarn.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A remarkable act of historical imagination and one of [Roth’s] most moving novels.” –People 

“Roth takes readers on a harrowing safari across interdimensional borders into a bizarre version of his hometown. . . . [His] delivery is so matter-of-fact, so documentary deadpan that when we’re 10 pages into the book our own world starts to seem like a flimsy fantasy.” –Time

“The most compelling of living writers. . . . [His] every book is like a dispatch from the deepest recesses of the national mind.” –New York Magazine

“A richly terrifying historical novel. . . . [Roth is] the greatest fiction writer America has ever produced.” –Esquire

“The writing is extraordinary, complex but highly readable, evocative, and colored with a tenderness and affection. . . . This is one of Roth’s finest books.” –O (The Oprah Magazine) 


About the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004.” Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2018.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

June 1940–October 1940

Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War

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.

When the first shock came in June of 1940--the nomination for the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh, America''s international aviation hero, by the Republican Convention at Philadelphia--my father was thirty-nine, an insurance agent with a grade school education, earning a little under fifty dollars a week, enough for the basic bills to be paid on time but for little more. My mother--who''d wanted to go to teachers'' college but couldn''t because of the expense, who''d lived at home working as an office secretary after finishing high school, who''d kept us from feeling poor during the worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the household--was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a prodigy''s talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a term ahead of himself--and an embryonic stamp collector inspired like millions of kids by the country''s foremost philatelist, President Roosevelt--was seven.

We lived in the second-floor flat of a small two-and-a-half-family house on a tree-lined street of frame wooden houses with red-brick stoops, each stoop topped with a gable roof and fronted by a tiny yard boxed in with a low-cut hedge. The Weequahic neighborhood had been built on farm lots at the undeveloped southwest edge of Newark just after World War One, some half dozen of the streets named, imperially, for victorious naval commanders in the Spanish-American War and the local movie house called, after FDR''s fifth cousin--and the country''s twenty-sixth president--the Roosevelt. Our street, Summit Avenue, sat at the crest of the neighborhood hill, an elevation as high as any in a port city that rarely rises a hundred feet above the level of the tidal salt marsh to the city''s north and east and the deep bay due east of the airport that bends around the oil tanks of the Bayonne peninsula and merges there with New York Bay to flow past the Statue of Liberty and into the Atlantic. Looking west from our bedroom''s rear window we could sometimes see inland as far as the dark treeline of the Watchungs, a low-lying mountain range fringed by great estates and affluent, sparsely populated suburbs, the extreme edge of the known world--and about eight miles from our house. A block to the south was the working-class town of Hillside, whose population was predominantly Gentile. The boundary with Hillside marked the beginning of Union County, another New Jersey entirely.

We were a happy family in 1940. My parents were outgoing, hospitable people, their friends culled from among my father''s associates at the office and from the women who along with my mother had helped to organize the Parent-Teacher Association at newly built Chancellor Avenue School, where my brother and I were pupils. All were Jews. The neighborhood men either were in business for themselves--the owners of the local candy store, grocery store, jewelry store, dress shop, furniture shop, service station, and delicatessen, or the proprietors of tiny industrial job shops over by the Newark-Irvington line, or self-employed plumbers, electricians, housepainters, and boilermen--or were foot-soldier salesmen like my father, out every day in the city streets and in people''s houses, peddling their wares on commission. The Jewish doctors and lawyers and the successful merchants who owned big stores downtown lived in one-family houses on streets branching off the eastern slope of the Chancellor Avenue hill, closer to grassy, wooded Weequahic Park, a landscaped three hundred acres whose boating lake, golf course, and harness-racing track separated the Weequahic section from the industrial plants and shipping terminals lining Route 27 and the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct east of that and the burgeoning airport east of that and the very edge of America east of that--the depots and docks of Newark Bay, where they unloaded cargo from around the world. At the western end of the neighborhood, the parkless end where we lived, there resided an occasional schoolteacher or pharmacist but otherwise few professionals were among our immediate neighbors and certainly none of the prosperous entrepreneurial or manufacturing families. The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time, with little assistance from labor-saving devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks, turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows, cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs, arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping the family''s books while simultaneously attending to their children''s health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct, birthdays, discipline, and morale. A few women labored alongside their husbands in the family-owned stores on the nearby shopping streets, assisted after school and on Saturdays by their older children, who delivered orders and tended stock and did the cleaning up.

It was work that identified and distinguished our neighbors for me far more than religion. Nobody in the neighborhood had a beard or dressed in the antiquated Old World style or wore a skullcap either outdoors or in the houses I routinely floated through with my boyhood friends. The adults were no longer observant in the outward, recognizable ways, if they were seriously observant at all, and aside from older shopkeepers like the tailor and the kosher butcher--and the ailing or decrepit grandparents living of necessity with their adult offspring--hardly anyone in the vicinity spoke with an accent. By 1940 Jewish parents and their children at the southwestern corner of New Jersey''s largest city talked to one another in an American English that sounded more like the language spoken in Altoona or Binghamton than like the dialects famously spoken across the Hudson by our Jewish counterparts in the five boroughs. Hebrew lettering was stenciled on the butcher shop window and engraved on the lintels of the small neighborhood synagogues, but nowhere else (other than at the cemetery) did one''s eye chance to land on the alphabet of the prayer book rather than on the familiar letters of the native tongue employed all the time by practically everyone for every conceivable purpose, high or low. At the newsstand out front of the corner candy store, ten times more customers bought the Racing Form than the Yiddish daily, the Forvertz.

Israel didn''t yet exist, six million European Jews hadn''t yet ceased to exist, and the local relevance of distant Palestine (under British mandate since the 1918 dissolution by the victorious Allies of the last far-flung provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire) was a mystery to me. When a stranger who did wear a beard and who never once was seen hatless appeared every few months after dark to ask in broken English for a contribution toward the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, I, who wasn''t an ignorant child, didn''t quite know what he was doing on our landing. My parents would give me or Sandy a couple of coins to drop into his collection box, largess, I always thought, dispensed out of kindness so as not to hurt the feelings of a poor old man who, from one year to the next, seemed unable to get it through his head that we''d already had a homeland for three generations. I pledged allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I eagerly observed its national holidays, and without giving a second thought to my affinity for the Fourth of July fireworks or the Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration Day double-header. Our homeland was America.

Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.

For nearly a decade Lindbergh was as great a hero in our neighborhood as he was everywhere else. The completion of his thirty-three-and-a-half-hour nonstop solo flight from Long Island to Paris in the tiny monoplane the Spirit of St. Louis even happened to coincide with the day in the spring of 1927 that my mother discovered herself to be pregnant with my older brother. As a consequence, the young aviator whose daring had thrilled America and the world and whose achievement bespoke a future of unimaginable aeronautical progress came to occupy a special niche in the gallery of family anecdotes that generate a child''s first cohesive mythology. The mystery of pregnancy and the heroism of Lindbergh combined to give a distinction bordering on the divine to my very own mother, for whom nothing less than a global annunciation had accompanied the incarnation of her first child. Sandy would later record this moment with a drawing illustrating the juxtaposition of those two splendid events. In the drawing--completed at the age of nine and smacking inadvertently of Soviet poster art--Sandy envisioned her miles from our house, amid a joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and Market. A slender young woman of twenty-three with dark hair and a smile that is all robust delight, she is surprisingly on her own and wearing her floral-patterned kitchen apron at the intersection of the city''s two busiest thoroughfares, one hand spread wide across the front of the apron, where the span of her hips is still deceptively girlish, while with the other she alone in the crowd is pointing skyward to the Spirit of St. Louis, passing visibly above downtown Newark at precisely the moment she comes to realize that, in a feat no less triumphant for a mortal than Lindbergh''s, she has conceived Sanford Roth.

Sandy was four and I, Philip, wasn''t yet born when in March 1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh''s own first child, a boy whose arrival twenty months earlier had been an occasion for national rejoicing, was kidnapped from his family''s secluded new house in rural Hopewell, New Jersey. Some ten weeks later the decomposing body of the baby was discovered by chance in woods a few miles away. The baby had been either murdered or killed accidentally after being snatched from his crib and, in the dark, still in bedclothes, carried out a window of the second-story nursery and down a makeshift ladder to the ground while the nurse and mother were occupied in their ordinary evening activities in another part of the house. By the time the kidnapping and murder trial in Flemington, New Jersey, concluded in February 1935 with the conviction of Bruno Hauptmann--a German ex-con of thirty-five living in the Bronx with his German wife--the boldness of the world''s first transatlantic solo pilot had been permeated with a pathos that transformed him into a martyred titan comparable to Lincoln.

Following the trial, the Lindberghs left America, hoping through a temporary expatriation to protect a new Lindbergh infant from harm and to recover some measure of the privacy they coveted. The family moved to a small village in England, and from there, as a private citizen, Lindbergh began taking the trips to Nazi Germany that would transform him into a villain for most American Jews. In the course of five visits, during which he was able to familiarize himself at first hand with the magnitude of the German war machine, he was ostentatiously entertained by Air Marshal Göring, he was ceremoniously decorated in the name of the Führer, and he expressed quite openly his high regard for Hitler, calling Germany the world''s "most interesting nation" and its leader "a great man." And all this interest and admiration after Hitler''s 1935 racial laws had denied Germany''s Jews their civil, social, and property rights, nullified their citizenship, and forbidden intermarriage with Aryans.

By the time I began school in 1938, Lindbergh''s was a name that provoked the same sort of indignation in our house as did the weekly Sunday radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, the Detroit-area priest who edited a right-wing weekly called Social Justice and whose anti-Semitic virulence aroused the passions of a sizable audience during the country''s hard times. It was in November 1938--the darkest, most ominous year for the Jews of Europe in eighteen centuries--that the worst pogrom in modern history, Kristallnacht, was instigated by the Nazis all across Germany: synagogues incinerated, the residences and businesses of Jews destroyed, and, throughout a night presaging the monstrous future, Jews by the thousands forcibly taken from their homes and transported to concentration camps. When it was suggested to Lindbergh that in response to this unprecedented savagery, perpetrated by a state on its own native-born, he might consider returning the gold cross decorated with four swastikas bestowed on him in behalf of the Führer by Air Marshal Göring, he declined on the grounds that for him to publicly surrender the Service Cross of the German Eagle would constitute "an unnecessary insult" to the Nazi leadership.

Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned to hate--just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living American whom I was taught to love--and so his nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world.

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Top reviews from the United States

Victor E. Smith
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fiction that is too close to fact to be ignored
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2018
Philip Roth may have written this book back in 2004, and it may be about an alternate rendering of American history in the early 1940''s that found the pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh in the White House instead of FDR, but every American who cares about the future of this nation... See more
Philip Roth may have written this book back in 2004, and it may be about an alternate rendering of American history in the early 1940''s that found the pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh in the White House instead of FDR, but every American who cares about the future of this nation and its democracy should be acutely aware of the possibilities posed in this book.

How Adolph Hitler managed to seduce the nation that produced so geniuses like Goethe and Beethoven always baffled me. I could not fathom why the Nazis found it worth their while to capture and kill my blind old great-grandmother in their concentration camp. A writer myself, I wrote my own novel about the era, and I went to a couple of those camps (Dachau and Buchenwald) and let the horror of them sear my soul so that I would never forget, nor would I allow anyone else, who let me, forget. And so I highly recommend this work by Philip Roth--who happens to be a damned great writer as well as a passionate advocate against fascism.
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William S Jamison
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
how amazing a set of predictions
Reviewed in the United States on April 11, 2017
I read The Plot Against America for a book group discussion we had on April 9. Considering current events an important part of our discussion concerned the interesting similarities between the fictional presidential administration and our actual current presidential... See more
I read The Plot Against America for a book group discussion we had on April 9. Considering current events an important part of our discussion concerned the interesting similarities between the fictional presidential administration and our actual current presidential administration - with which we found many. Certainly our real president would hop around in his plane the same as Charles Lindbergh though Lindbergh flew himself while today the plane is owned - but the overall impact on waiting crowds seems the same. Also the terse not quite diplomatic jargon seems similar. But most of the discussion concerned having a president that seemed okay or even encouraging to people who discriminated against other US citizens because of their race or religion applied pretty fairly - though today we might change the religion somewhat to non-Christian religions in general. There were also some frustrations with a common Rothian theme associated with individual sexual behaviors of young men, though in this one it was through the eyes of one young enough not to know what that was. There was also the interest in how well Roth seems to communicate so clearly that you can easily get a sense of what is happening. Though also occasionally things seem confusing. We were all concerned about how fact and fiction seemed to blend so well that we felt confused about whether or not specific things were historical or not or both. How much of perceived prejudice is in the imagination of the perceiver? But also how striking it seemed that a book over ten years ago could predict so many events now happening.
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Hillary L. Brower
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
not my favorite Phillip Roth
Reviewed in the United States on November 12, 2019
I really did not love this book and I am a huge Roth fan. The premise was a subject I knew was going to be difficult to swallow and I was ready for it, however I felt that the portrayal was difficult to follow and convoluted in its telling. The concept of the President... See more
I really did not love this book and I am a huge Roth fan. The premise was a subject I knew was going to be difficult to swallow and I was ready for it, however I felt that the portrayal was difficult to follow and convoluted in its telling. The concept of the President being a Nazi collaborator and then suddenly everything turned out Ok was just too much There are so many great Roth books This was not one of them
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KauiTop Contributor: Historical Fiction Books
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
No character is purely good or evil - they are all struggling to make sense of a confusing world
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2017
Philip Roth is one of my favorite authors. Interested in the human condition, the Jewish-American condition, and the male condition, his books each offer a unique exploration into a compelling topic with universal themes. The genius about this book in particular... See more
Philip Roth is one of my favorite authors. Interested in the human condition, the Jewish-American condition, and the male condition, his books each offer a unique exploration into a compelling topic with universal themes.

The genius about this book in particular is how Roth examines the issue of America "selling out" to Hitler from many plausible yet conflicting viewpoints. From the indignant father to the quietly prideful mother, to the damaged orphan nephew to the lonely aunt to the ever curious boy, anti-semitic events are presented, described, experienced and analyzed with clearly developed voices that reach out from the 1940''s to touch our hearts today, in the age of Internet-based news and every changing political grounds.

I found this book to be very rewarding, both from a literary and a plot standpoint. The story arc progresses steadily until the last 15% of the book, where the pace increases to frenetic, confrontation leaps out on every page, and conflicting viewpoints are resolved.

I highly recommend!
46 people found this helpful
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Joe D.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Unintended Allegory of Current Presidential Administration
Reviewed in the United States on August 11, 2018
Reading this book in the time of Trump is probably a bit different than reading this when it was first published. Though it could not have been intended to be, it is a WWII era themed allegory portraying the evils of the current administration, and it works perfectly as... See more
Reading this book in the time of Trump is probably a bit different than reading this when it was first published. Though it could not have been intended to be, it is a WWII era themed allegory portraying the evils of the current administration, and it works perfectly as such. The plot involves the election of a xenophobic racist celebrity who has colluded with foreign adversaries to undermine the role of the American government. Only the celebrity in this fictional version is Charles Lindbergh. This revisionist history is written with Roth''s excruciating attention to detail using himself as a child as a narrator. Many of the descriptions seem realistic and possibly or probably autobiographical relating to Roth''s childhood. The book excels as making the fake history seem real by peppering it with these facts and reflections, and that is masterfully done. But because of the attention to detail, the story just plods along in places and he actually has to add sections absent the main characters that move it forward. He refers to characters going to the movies to watch the newsreels, so maybe that whay he writes it this way. If he could have better incorporated major world events with the local narrative, it would have been a smoother read. As it was, I was entertained, couldn''t put it down and it has been for me one of the best books that my book club has read.
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Howard Mandel
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Even better now
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2020
I read The Plot Against America when it first came out, and it seemed all to prophetic (especially as a book set eighty years ago). I''m a fan of Philip Roth''s writing, and this book has the best of his magic touch with a (smart) child''s point of view but also his corrosive... See more
I read The Plot Against America when it first came out, and it seemed all to prophetic (especially as a book set eighty years ago). I''m a fan of Philip Roth''s writing, and this book has the best of his magic touch with a (smart) child''s point of view but also his corrosive comprehension of human needs and desires, here including power and position. I hadn''t realized how in reality Lindbergh was so pro-Fascist, and the entire aura of history unfolding with nothing to do but watch in horror permeated the story -- until the ending, which seemed less-than-earned. Now, however, post-2020 election, that resolution seems more acceptable, somehow, as a genuine possibility. don''t want to add spoilers, so am being oblique. The point is, the book''s conclusion echoes truer and much more satisfying (at least for me, for now), considering recent events in this world (which give me joy). Get what I mean? No? Read this book for a fast trip into 1940s'' Jewish Newark, fear of dire upset of tenuous stability, and politics in a scary fun-house mirror, present in which you read this inevitably mixing with this fictional past.
4 people found this helpful
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BP
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating, sophisticated, and enjoyable
Reviewed in the United States on January 16, 2017
This is a fascinating work of counterfactual historical fiction. It is extremely realistic, and if one didn''t know the actual history one could be fooled by the novel''s excellent mimesis (imitation) of the historical context it portrays. The novel is rich with details and... See more
This is a fascinating work of counterfactual historical fiction. It is extremely realistic, and if one didn''t know the actual history one could be fooled by the novel''s excellent mimesis (imitation) of the historical context it portrays. The novel is rich with details and is bursting with juicy tidbits. Philip Roth is one of the best writers of modern American literature. This novel should be of particular interest to Jews, as it portrays a hypothetical fascist America. (For a similar book, see It Can''t Happen Here (Signet Classics) .) The Plot Against America is also somewhat of a political thriller, and the novel''s portrayal of the presidency definitely carries contemporary relevance, considering the 2016 election. Those who are fascinated by presidential threats/assassinations and the line of succession and will have their appetites whetted. (See also Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama and Living Dangerously: The Uncertainties of Presidential Disability and Succession ). I read The Plot Against America for a literature course, but it''s so enjoyable that I would''ve read it even if I didn''t have to.
71 people found this helpful
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Chief TB
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
So timely.
Reviewed in the United States on June 27, 2018
I heard of this book when it came out but never read it. I can’t believe it was written almost a decade ago. The fictional account of a charismatic president being elected (Lindbergh) and propped up by Nazi Germany and other world Fascists seems like fantasy until you... See more
I heard of this book when it came out but never read it. I can’t believe it was written almost a decade ago. The fictional account of a charismatic president being elected (Lindbergh) and propped up by Nazi Germany and other world Fascists seems like fantasy until you realize in 2018 it is happening. The late Phillip Roth must have had ESP. The story is chilling and sadly believable. written from the point of view of a child he takes us through the confusion and fear when things seem inexplicable. This book is a warning. Heed it.
10 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

Bottomless Hole
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A classic American novel
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 22, 2016
This is an astonishing book written by an author whose works I have been meaning to read for some time. For me, it is a classic, American novel which provides as much to think about as ''To Kill a Mockingbird'' and ''The Grapes of Wrath'' It is a counter-factual novel which...See more
This is an astonishing book written by an author whose works I have been meaning to read for some time. For me, it is a classic, American novel which provides as much to think about as ''To Kill a Mockingbird'' and ''The Grapes of Wrath'' It is a counter-factual novel which conducts a thought-experiment looking at what would happen if the United States of America had elected the aviation expert / celebrity and renowned anti-Semitic, Charles Lindbergh in 1940. This aspect of fiction is set amongst all the factual events that led up to and followed this election. Lindbergh of course, was the famous aircraft pilot who flew the Spirit of St Louis from America to France and was the pioneer of modern aircraft travel. It discusses the story of the kidnapping of his son and his voluntary exile to Europe where he becomes aware and interested in the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Following his election, upon which theories as to why this happened are discussed towards the end of the novel, America sees a slow build up of anti-Semitism across the country starting with minor indignities which the protagonist family experience on a trip to Washington DC to full-blown pogroms and massacres. Roth''s main characters are himself and his own family. He places them all at the centre of the story and we see the events through the seven-year old Roth himself. This gives us a fascinating insight once again (just as Harper Lee gives us through the eyes of Scout Finch) into how ordinary families, people and children can have their lives affected, influenced and turned upside-down by the decisions of those with power and authority. We are shown in great detail how this ordinary Jewish family, and most notably, the father, are turned from being people who embrace American life and culture and who fully feel American and celebrate being American, to feeling outsiders in their own country. We see how a totally unqualified man can become President on the strength of his celebrity and his method of appealing to the general public''s xenophobic fears. Reading this in the build-up to the Trump / Clinton election provides an unnerving context that Roth could not have foreseen in 2004 when this book was written. This book is a wonderful, thought-provoking read and while it clearly has its disturbing scenes, it is not without moments that are touching and humorous. You sense that it will become more relevant as years go by as humanity continues to embark on its journey to self-destruct. It belongs on the list of those books that all should read at some point in their lives. Never has there been a better time to do so.
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James Brydon
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An intriguing alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh becomes President of the USA.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 26, 2018
There was extensive coverage of the death a few weeks ago of Philip Roth who was widely feted as one of the greatest American novelists of his generation. Nearly twenty years ago I read, and enjoyed, I Married a Communist, but had struggled to finish any of his other books....See more
There was extensive coverage of the death a few weeks ago of Philip Roth who was widely feted as one of the greatest American novelists of his generation. Nearly twenty years ago I read, and enjoyed, I Married a Communist, but had struggled to finish any of his other books. Since his death I have read books from either end of his lengthy career: Portnoy’s Complaint, his first major success, and now The Plot Against America, one of his last novels. I found Portnoy’s Complaint utterly unappealing, and frankly embarrassing: one of the most distasteful and disappointing books I have read. The Plot Against America is cut from entirely different cloth – an assured and imaginative novel from an established writer still completely in command of his powers. It also has a particularly strong poignancy just now. The novel offers an alternative history in which in 1940, having experienced the extremes of the huge success of his first solo flight across the Atlantic, and then the tragedy of the kidnap and then death of his infant son, celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh enters domestic politics. Having already raised eyebrows by his apparent praise for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, he makes a series of injudicious comments that are increasingly anti-Semitic in nature. As the Republican Party struggles to find a candidate who could feasibly stand against the incumbent, President Roosevelt, Lindbergh enters the fray, and romps away with the nomination. While the electorate looks on in disbelief, his campaign on an American isolationist platform at a time when Roosevelt was clearly veering towards entering the war in Europe starts to gain traction. Come November, in a devastating turnaround, he wins the Presidency. This is all recounted through the eyes of Roth himself, who was seven years old in 1940 and living in a Jewish community in New Jersey. As Lindbergh reveals his own anti-Semitism, and then advances in the opinion polls, the community grows increasingly alarmed, yet still can’t believe that he could possibly win. Roth captures the growing disbelief and paranoia very acutely. Of course, there are strong parallels between the rise of Lindbergh, an ‘amateur’ politician with no experience in government, offering divisive and isolationist policies, and ‘stealing’ an election against what appeared to be a better experienced ‘insider’ from the establishment, and the election of Donald Trump. It also reminded me closely of Sinclair Lewis’s equally prescient 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. Its resonances were not, however, restricted to America. The British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has been riven over the last few months by constant allegations of anti-Semitism, and counter claims that these are backed by pro-Zionist factions within the party. Of course, there is a certain irony that in Roth’s book, anti-Semitism is seen as the province of the Right, while in Britain at the moment it is so much of an issue with the Left. But back to Roth’s book ... While I found it interesting and clever, I just couldn’t make myself like it. It was certainly better than Portnoy’s Complaint (well, for one thing I didn’t feel I needed to take a cleansing shower after reading it), but somehow it just didn’t quite appeal to me.
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M. Dowden
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Good Read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2020
First published in 2004 this book is a warning as such of a populist figure rising to become the US President, something that had been done in the past by Sinclair Lewis back in the thirties with ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The person here elected as president is Charles A...See more
First published in 2004 this book is a warning as such of a populist figure rising to become the US President, something that had been done in the past by Sinclair Lewis back in the thirties with ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The person here elected as president is Charles A Lindbergh, who stands for the Republicans on an America First ticket, an organisation that soon dissolved after Pearl Harbour in real life. There is some conceit here as Roth uses his family as the main characters, and thus Philip Roth is our narrator, as he looks back on the past, and a couple of tumultuous years when in this alternative history it looked like America was going to go the way of Nazi Germany. I see that some of the reviewers here have not fully read or understood the book, and there is a list of real life characters at the back of the book, including biographical timelines for the more important ones. As such reading the story you can see that Roth does not actually portray Lindbergh as a Nazi sympathiser and only uses words that he had actually spoken or written in his lifetime. Lindbergh was against entering the Second World War, as were others, as they saw it as something that would be financially hard on Americans and not really a cause that would be beneficial, and this is how he gains his position of power, and to be honest when he says here that of course the Jews want war he is stating something that went with many other migrant communities in the US, in that they wanted their homelands and people safe again. We thus end up with a tale of a family and their friends as they try to contend with what is happening, and what is likely to happen to them, as they are Jewish, although American. This is indeed the main thrust of the tale, the uncertainty, the increase in violence and hate towards a minority and so on, as well as others listening to and taking in the rubbish that many espouse in popularist movements to gain power. Although of course here this tale centres on the Jewish community, and what they can see is happening in Europe, so this could be taken for any other small community, such as for instance Muslims, who can be persecuted because of the actions of terrorists who happen to be of the same religion. It is this part of the novel that is exceptionally well written and takes us into the life of a family and a community where fear and hopes are brought to a boiling point due to the uncertainty. The use of Lindbergh as the protagonist is actually a good one, because we have here the knowing of what happened to his child who was kidnapped and found dead, and thus we have at one stage a conspiracy theory that involves that boy, along with the obvious, the trauma and the psychological damage that can entail from such an event. There are conspiracies here and people at times overreacting, but that is part of real life, and indeed one of the biggest spreaders of such things is actually Jewish himself. This does also raise the very valid point about ghetto mentality, where groups of migrants live in close-knit communities, where at times it means that the language of their new country and its customs and traditions are not taken in fully, something which probably causes more violent racial damage than anything else. On a more intimate level, with the family this works really well, but on a broader canvas with the politics and so on, not so well, and the only real reason we are given for the President’s actions sounds more like a conspiracy theory, and the characters in this book indeed treat it as such.
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Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wasted story
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 24, 2020
I have never before left a poor review but this was awful and a total waste of time and money. Throughout the book absolutely nothing happens yet a very ordinary sentence leads to 4-5 pages of description that have nothing to do with anything. This happens constantly....See more
I have never before left a poor review but this was awful and a total waste of time and money. Throughout the book absolutely nothing happens yet a very ordinary sentence leads to 4-5 pages of description that have nothing to do with anything. This happens constantly. Almost the entire book is describing background buildings and names. About 10% is a story. I get about setting a scene and background but this is just not there. The book ending tells a tale that could have genuinely been a terrific story but is told in only newspaper flashes. The main characters are dull and do not actually do a single thing or have a single story worthy thing happen to them. 1/10
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C. J. Tyler
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
American Jewish life and US Nazism
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 13, 2020
Many levels on which this book can be enjoyed. For me, the clever idea is presenting US Jewish life (much more familiar to us through TV programmes than European Jewish life) and adding Nazi persecution. It made the emotional and societal turmoil easier to relate to. Roth''s...See more
Many levels on which this book can be enjoyed. For me, the clever idea is presenting US Jewish life (much more familiar to us through TV programmes than European Jewish life) and adding Nazi persecution. It made the emotional and societal turmoil easier to relate to. Roth''s characterisation is strong, the story line compelling but some of the Lindbergh stuff gets tiresome - his character is insufficiently drawn. He literally flies in and out of the story with little substance to most of his appearances. The conspiracy which grandly reveals itself is clumsy in some of its detail, but the point is a good one and it is a credible story. You don''t need to know any history to enjoy this book.
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