The Plot Against America


Philip Roth's 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, is counterfactual history centered around Roth himself as a young boy growing up in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. In this alternate reality, the aviation superstar Charles Lindbergh is elected in 1940 as president of the United States, which ultimately leads to the persecution of Jews in parts of the country.


Roth mixes fact and fiction brilliantly. He uses a journalistic voice at times. He increases the plot's tempo slowly so that the narrative feels credible and historical. Another technique he uses is feeding the reader long, meticulously crafted sentences, which seem to carry the very authority of truth.


Lindbergh was in fact a Nazi sympathizer. Henry Ford did in fact promote and publish antisemitic content in his own newspaper, distributed to his thousands of employees. Both actually received the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle from Nazi officials. Though while Lindbergh and Roth were both powerful in their own circles and influential, the job of running the country, we know, was Roosevelt's. If FDR hadn't been in power, or if isolationism and antisemitism had been allowed to pave the way in American politics and through the media, things would've turned out quite different, not just for the U.S. but also for the world, as Roth explores through this novel. At the same time he digs into distinctions between life and art, a common theme in his novels, while also incorporating his singularly acute dry humor (with loads of perfectly executed adverbs), a good measure of entertainment, which is often dark because it's uncomfortably intertwined with grave issues and human suffering, and remarkably rich but precise descriptions and insights on human nature. Sabbath's Theater (1995) remains my favorite Roth novel, but The Plot Against America is now in my top five, along with Portnoy's Complaint (1969) and American Pastoral (1997).

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