Review: The Plot Against America

The clue for a good book in alternate History is the point from which a new History emerges; the key to success is plausibility.
That, exactly, is what Phillip Roth achieves in “The plot against America”: Roosevelt is defeated before he even had the possibility of getting the USA in WWII. And not only is he defeated; his rival is a charismatic aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh, with a political platform broadly based on nationalism, traditional values and, that is the main point, isolationism. What happens, then?
The novel, being narrated from the point of view of a Jewish kid, describes accurately the confusion of a surprising victory and the split in a society very opinionated and with issues of its own unsolved since the Great Crash. The isolationism was, and somewhat still is a very strong political movement in the States. There is quite a lot of citizens who think that, for the USA, the entanglement with European affairs could only end in disgrace, especially when those affairs where of a warlike condition. Even our main character’s family has its inner fights about cooperation with the new administration, which brings out the matter of collaboration, so important during the world conflict and the post-war years.
But what gives the biggest shock to History, is the new political profile of the United States’ Government; not only it will not approve to intervene in the war, the relations with the Nazis improve, and some kind of cooperation is even suggested. Which brings out the Jewish affair. How are Jews to be treated under the new, Nazi-friendly administration? Well, not exactly in the best of ways.
Little by little, with everyday examples, Roth brings to life drastic changes for the Chosen People. Anti-Semitism surges and gains strength, life is becoming worse for Jews, there is even a Maoism-like re-education program for young Hebrews, and violence is just waiting a spark to burn fiercely. The growing tension is explained not only from the eyes of our young friend, but particularly from the description of a media war between pro-Government and Jewish journalists, which, obviously enough, ends up utterly bad with the assassination of the leading Hebrew journalist…
This is probably the most anticlimactic point in the novel. Suddenly after this hot moment, Lindbergh disappears in one of his propaganda flights across the Nation, and amazingly quickly everything turns back to what we can call somewhat ordinary day life. Strange enough; it seems like Roth himself was feeling sick of how near was his story of what as well could have been History, considering the strength of the isolationist movement in the USA during the first half of the XX century, thus he decided to put an abrupt end to all that madness and suffering…
In few words: if what you are looking for is a good story, with suspense, tension, drama and a deep involvement in ethical and political issues, this is a must read, without doubt. Moreover, I think that this must be a compulsory reading for any would be Historian interested in what happened not only in Europe, but in the world in general, in reference to the sad story of the Hebrew People, because is a very likely translation of the actions that Nazi Government take in turn in Germany. But, my dear reader, if what you want to know is how fear, hatred and ignorance, melted with economic crisis, can actually transform a free society in a turmoil first read the book; then have a walk in your own town, and look around. Phillip Roth will walk with you giving you hints of where to look and discover the seeds of evil.

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