Roth's "Plot Against America" - chilling alternate fascist America


I've just finished Philip Roth's latest-but-one novel, The Plot Against America. Plot is an alternate history about a world in which Charles Lindbergh wins the Republican presidential nomination and beats back FDR on a campaign of "isolationism," keeping America out of WWII. Lindbergh was a real-world Nazi sympathizer who was even awarded medals by Hitler's government, and in Plot, Lindbergh's Isolationism is a front for an anti-Semitic program that creeps by inches into the world of the novel's point of view character, also called "Philip Roth," a young boy growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey.


Plot reads like a cross between EL Doctorow's wonderful Ragtime and the manic, hilarious, gross-out Roth masterpiece, Portnoy's Complaint. The story chronicles the shifts in America and in Roth's family as Lindbergh's anti-Semites take power, and as they slowly begin a kind of low-key pogrom, taking Jewish children away from their parents and sending them to live with Gentile families in the South, relocating Jewish families out of the cities, and so all. All of it cloaked in a jingoistic doctrine of "American assimilation" that is awfully reminiscent of today's reactionary anti-immigrant rhetoric, the old line about how "They insist that we treat them differently but then they complain about discrimination."

Plot has some mis-steps -- the whole third act kind of loses it for a while, with the climax and the denouement seemingly swapped around, and the recounting of a bizarre conspiracy theory reminds you that you're reading alternate history, not the real thing. Nevertheless, the cast of characters, real and fictional, are exceptionally well drawn (Henry Ford, largely offstage, is a distinctly Cheney-esque presence as Lindbergh's Secretary of State). There are moments of real Roth humor, but they're just spice for a much more serious, it-could-happen-here kind of story that had me alarmed anew about the current administration's attacks on the Constitution.

I listened to Plot as an audiobook, a masterful performance from Ron Silver, who read it like in a great, old-time-movie New York Jew voice, and who handled the other characters -- including Churchill and FDR with just as much mastery and versatility.

Link to paperback

Link to audiobook