You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Plot Against America

I listened to The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth on audiobook in June 2006. It's an alternate history, set during WWII. Charles Lindbergh is nominated for President of the United States by the Republican party in 1940, and defeats FDR in the election. Lindbergh uses his popularity as America's aviation hero and anti-war rhetoric, painting Democrats as warmongers. When he gets into office, he stops all aid to England, and signs peace treaties with Germany and Japan.

The story is told as an autobiography by the author, describing events in his family and on the national level. The split in the nation is mirrored by his family's division. The government starts a program to get Jewish kids away from their families and to Midwestern or Southern families, supposedly to give them the experience of average Americans and help "integrate" them. Really it serves to separate Jewish youth from their homes and indoctrinate them. Philip's brother Sandy returns from a trip believing that Lindbergh and Hitler are harmless, and his family are paranoid Jews.

It's fascinating to watch as their aunt marries the foremost Jewish rabbi in the country, who runs the program to separate Jews, and their cousin goes to Canada to join the fight against Hitler. The idea of going to Canada to join a war is so ironic in itself. The cousins returns after losing his leg. Philip is recruited to help care for his cousin's stump, becomes closer to his cousin, them has to watch as he turns to gambling and depression and laziness.

Philip also has to deal with one friend who takes him on bus rides to follow gentiles, and another friend who lives downstairs who's clingy and needy. Philip goes so far as to try to run away, though he doesn't get very far and his downstairs friend has to has to rescue him after he gets hit in the head by a horse.

It's fascinating to watch the whole country get sucked into the same beliefs. Some people were fervently pro-Nazi, but the majority simply allowed themselves to believe that the administration's actions were no big deal. Clearly a call for government scrutiny and skepticism.

The father of the family goes so far as to quit his job as an insurance agent when he and several other jews are "relocated" to offices in Kentucky and further away. My impression was, if this happened today the company and the government would get sued for discrimination. You obviously can't force a group of people to move based on their ethnicity. But in the confines of the story, it actually seems plausible. The father is forced to work longer hours for his brother at a market. But that job is threatened when the feds come around asking about the cousin's pro-war, "anti-American", attitudes. Again ironic that an a pro-war stance is painted as anti-American, whereas today anyone against a war is labeled as unpatriotic.

I won't divulge how the book ends here. Suffice it to say things turn to "normalcy" eventually, and Pearl Harbor is bombed later than in history. I give the book a solid A. The national and family stories are blended terrifically. Young Philip's concerns and anxieties are played out well as he watches his parents' and brother's and cousin's disagreements. And the thought of Nazis nearly taking over the country is a stunning concept.


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7:24 PM, August 12, 2006  
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10:48 PM, August 17, 2006  

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