Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Plot Against America, a mini-review

I finished The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. It's been a long time since I read Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint, books I highly recommend to anyone who wants to know exactly what us old farts are referring to when we speak of the sexual revolution of the late sixties.

Times, alas, have changed and this more "mature" Roth has written in this latest book of the struggles of several families in 1940's Jewish Newark, New Jersey. Roth starts out from a more or less historical locale and then travels a timeline of a parallel world in which rightists oust Roosevelt and sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in order to stay out of the war.

The villain of the book is none other than Charles Lindbergh, and Roth draws from quotes of this and other historical figures in imagining a deeply anti-Semitic culture taking hold in America, complete with an Office of American Absorption being led by a tragically ambitious social climbing rabbi.

The protagonist of this work is an adolescent boy, who sees his family and his life crashing down all around him as the government begins to create programs designed to decentralize and disenfranchise the Jewish community.

Roth maintains that this tale is not intended to be an allegory of the currently rising conservatism, but this book certainly has all the elements of a classic roman à clef, or thinly veiled "fiction" intended to depict historical events. Well, we all have our crosses to bear―so to speak―but the man has a way of getting into the head of the child, and that is when I remember the very real characters with very real demons that peopled Roth's earlier works.

One passage that touched me was young Philip's description of his father's breaking down upon learning that his foster child had lost a leg fighting for Canada in the war:

It was the first time I saw my father cry. A childhood milestone, when another's
tears are more unbearable than one's own.
Such description is why we write, and why we read. To remember when such a thing happened, and to see these words and know that we do not travel alone in this world, is why people so often refer to a book as their old friend.

It was nice catching up with Mr. Roth.


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