The Plot against America
by Philip Roth
Philip Roth just gets better. This, his latest novel, is a stunning achievement.
In THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, Roth poses a terrifying, yet perfectly plausible, ‘what if..’: What if Charles Lindbergh, suave aviator hero and proto-fascist, had become President of the United States in 1941?
Roth constructs a chilling scenario where America not only fails to engage in World War II and prevent Hitler’s march across Europe, but allows its government to implement anti-Semitic programmes that are sending it on the road towards a ‘final solution’ for the Jewish population.
The story is told in the voice of Philip Roth, nine-year-old second generation American Jew, living in Newark, New Jersey. The perspective of the young boy is not only completely convincing – his limited understanding, his undeserved guilt, his admiration for less than worthy heroes – but it also creates an empathetic viewpoint for the terrible events that shape the lives of his family and friends. The story is engrossing, Roth’s characterisation is, as always, deft – Philip’s father, brother, cousin, uncle are all too plausible in their fallibility – and the effortless brilliance of some of the passages is breath-taking.
My only reservation about the book is that it is written about an era, twenty three years before the Jim Crow laws were repealed, when segregation – in schools, restaurants, cinemas, buses - was not only commonplace but was legal. By ignoring this fundamental aspect of American social history, and writing it from a purely Jewish standpoint, Roth leaves a gaping hole in the narrative of an otherwise fantastic novel.
Written in the context of the ‘soft fascism’ of the Bush regime and the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, the novel serves to remind us of how fragile racial tolerance can be and how we should guard against a complacence that allows discrimination, legal or otherwise, in our multi-cultural societies.