Friday, July 14, 2006

The old white man series

The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

The premise of The Plot Against America is what if instead of electing Franklin Roosevelt to a third term, Americans had elected isolationist, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh president?

I love the concept of what-if-history-were-different books, but the execution can be awful. (See Stephen Fry's Making History, on what if Hitler were never born, for a bad one.) This is Philip Roth, though, and we are in able hands.

The Plot Against America is a story less about the historical concept than about a nation afraid. The Jews are afraid of a U.S. progrom. The rest of the country is afraid of war. They like hearing that the U.S. can stay out of World War II -- this Jew war -- and that their sons won't have to fight and that everything will be fine.

What happens in Philip Roth's World War II isn't even so different from what happened in the real one. In Roth's world, the Jews are targeted and forced to move. In the real history, Japanese-Americans weren't treated so well.

And even in Philip Roth's world, history doesn't get that far off course. Things are terrifying for a lot of people for a few years, but then they get back to normal. The narrator refers to Robert Kennedy's assassination after he wins the California primary in 1968, so I have to believe that Philip Roth's history ends up unfolding just like the real one.

A note on the authors

With the John Updike and the Philip Roth, I've been reading lots of old white men (though Updike wasn't so old when he wrote Rabbit, Run). But there are female and nonwhite and non-American authors in my reading pile, I promise.


maryann said...

yeah, i'm gonna need for you to stop reading stuff by THA MAN and get in touch with your sisters!


so, i'm not completely clear from this. did you like it? i think i randomly have it on my wish list.

Airhen said...

I did like it a lot. It wasn't cheesey like rewritten-history books can be. And I am reading a book by a Bangledeshi-British woman, OK? OK???