The Plot Against America: 07/09/06
Today I finished reading Philip Roth's alternate history of WWII, The Plot Against America. It's the first book by this author I've read but I enjoyed his style of writing to seek out other books he has written. I have been wanting to read it since I heard the author interviewed, once on Radio 4 and a few months later on NPR.
As luck would have it, I was able to pick up a copy of the book from the January BookCrossing from a member who goes by the name kenj. He and I seem to have very similar tastes in reading so I'm often coming home with books he has registered.
Here is my BookCrossing review:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Plot Against America even with its hokey ending. I heard Roth interviewed about a year ago and he explained that he didn't want to his alternate WWII story to upset the rest of recent history's timeline. At the end of the book therefore, he has to do some fancy footwork to get Lindbergh out of office in time for things to settle the way they way they were at the actual close of WWII. For those interested, Roth includes a timeline of actual events to compare against those described in the book.
Before reading this book I read two others that really enhanced my enjoyment of the story: Dr. Seuss Goes to War and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. The Dr. Seuss book is a catalogue of the artist's political cartoons from WWII. The other book takes place in a re-education camp in China during the Cultural Revolution. Just as Roth uses his own family and experiences (including himself) but in a ficitonalized form, Sijie draws on his experiences in a camp to write his novel.
The reason I'm including Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is that Kentucky as a relocation point for certain Jewish people and families is a central piece to the plot of Roth's book. First it starts with just sending the youth down there from the cities and later, entire "elite" (aka politically active against Lindbergh) families to Kentucky and other similar places. While Roth's father calls these programs American concentration camps, their goal and execution reminded me more the re-education camps. People did actually return from them and communication with them was possible as shown by Sandy Roth's time down there and Sheldon's relocation to there.
The Plot Against America takes a national view of what could have happened in the political climate at FDR's campaign for a third term and compares it against the effects a very different outcome (Lindbergh for president) would have on one family as they are ultimately torn apart by their own political differences.
One piece of the war not covered is the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the concentration camps for Japanese Americans. I don't know if Roth left them out because Pearl Harbor didn't happen in his book or if he wanted to keep the plot focused on the experiences of his Jewish characters. I have the feeling that he left it out for a combination of those two reasons.