Sunday, January 16, 2005

The plot against America: a novel

I recently read Philip Roth's novel, The Plot Against America. In this novel, Roth imagines what it would be like if Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot well known for his isolationist views at that time, had become president in 1940. This is actually the first novel of Roth's I have read, although from some reviews I have read it may well be his best. It is a real page turner, quite engrossing and vividly written. It has an autobiographical quality to it as well, as Roth uses his real name and childhood age at the time, although some of the characers are composites of people he knew growing up. The novel is set in Newark, New Jersey, Roth growing up in a lower middle-class Jewish neighborhood. His father, an insurance agent who did not have the opportunity to receive much education, is the center of integrity in this novel. It is a valuable portrayal of the life of a Jewish-American family at that time, when anti-Semitism was much more open and widespread than now, but not as apparent to the Roth family until after Lindbergh's election. There are elements of satire in it as well, particularly in the euphemistic approach the Lindbergh administration adopts in implementing its anti-Semitic domestic policies and in making alliances with Hitler and Japan. Does it have relevance for today? I think so in some respects, particularly in how our society can be misled by shallow politicians (like Lindbergh), who can gain popularity through superficial campaign techniques while pursuing darker designs that threaten the integrity of our society.


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