"The Plot Against America"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie FEB 17, 2005)
In the spring of 1942, to celebrate the success of the Iceland Understanding, a state dinner was given at the White House by president and Mrs Lindbergh to honor Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was known to have touted Lindbergh to his Nazi colleagues as Germany's ideal American presidential candidate long before the Republican Party drafted Lindbergh at the 1940 convention. Von Ribbentrop was the negotiator seated at Hitler's side throughout the Iceland meetings and the first Nazi leader to be invited to America by 'any' government official or agency since the fascists had come to power nearly ten years before. No sooner was the announcement of the von Ribbentrop dinner made public than strong criticism was voiced by the liberal press, and rallies and demonstrations were staged all across the country protesting the White House decision. For the first time since he left office, former President Roosevelt emerged from seclusion to make a brief nation-wide address from Hyde Park urging President Lindbergh to rescind the invitation 'for the sake of all freedom-loving Americans, and particularly the tens of millions of Americans of European stock whose ancestral countries must live beneath the Nazi' crushing yoke."
The Great Depression devastated the American economy in the 1930s. It also gave birth to extreme political movements. Fascism never really caught on in the US, but it did have a following, and anti-Semitism was rampant. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were influential voices to the far right, and were extreme isolationists in their views on the European war, better known as the German invasion of Europe. Both received and accepted medals from the Third Reich. In this 1940 election, the one that never happened, Roosevelt runs a campaign based on complex policies, foreign and domestic. Lindbergh, a national hero, handsome and athletic, flies around the USA in his Spirit of St. Louis, promising to keep America out of Europe's war. He greets cheering crowds with the words, "Your choice is simple. It's between Lindbergh and war. To preserve the nation, we must resist the propaganda of 'the Jewish race,' and their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government." In a momentous victory, Lindbergh becomes the 33rd President of the United States, with isolationist Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler as his vice president, and Henry Ford as Secretary of the Interior.
The characters throughout the novel are lifelike, superbly constructed and three-dimensional - but then I have a feeling that such consistently powerful figures must be largely autobiographical. And the historical figures are absolutely believable. As a matter of fact, Roth has placed a detailed reference at the back of the book, "A True Chronology of the Major Figures," from Roosevelt, Lindbergh, Walter Winchell, (who becomes a presidential candidate), and Henry Ford to Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, (who is given a state dinner at the White House). Additional documentation is included in this reference also.
1933: Philip Roth in born on March 19 in Newark, New Jersey, second child of Herman Roth and Bess Finkel.
1957: Roth's story "You Can't Tell a Man by the Song He Sings" is published in Commentary.
1958: Roth's stories "The Conversion of the Jews" and "Epstein" are published in The Paris Review. Houghton Mifflin awards Roth the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship to publish the novella and five stories in one volume.
1959: Roth's story "Defender of the Faith" is published in The New Yorker. Goodbye, Columbus is published in May. Roth receives Guggenheim fellowship and award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
1960: Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories wins National Book Award.
1962: Letting Go is published.
1967: When She Was Good is published.
1969: Portnoy's Complaint published in February. Within weeks it becomes the number-one fiction best-seller and a widely discussed cultural phenomenon.
1970: Roth is elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters and is its youngest member.
1971: Excerpts of Our Gang, a satire of the Nixon administration, appear in New York Review of Books and Modern Occasions; the book is published in the fall.
1972: The Breast, the first book of three featuring protagonist David Kepesh, is published.
1973: The Great American Novel is published.
1974: My Life as a Man is published.
1975:Reading Myself and Others is published.
1977: The Professor of Desire, the second book of Kepesh trilogy, is published.
1979: The Ghost Writer, first novel featuring novelist Nathan Zuckerman as protagonist, is published in its entirety in The New Yorker, then in book form.
1980: A Philip Roth Reader is published.
1981:Zuckerman Unbound is published.
1984: The Anatomy Lesson is published.
1985: Zuckerman Bound, a compilation of The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, with epilogue The Prague Orgy, is published.
1987: The Counterlife is published; wins National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
1988: The Facts is published.
1990: Deception is published.
1991: Patrimony is published; wins National Book Critics Circle Award for biography.
1993: Operation Shylock is published; wins PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.
1995: Sabbath's Theater is published and wins National Book Award for fiction.
1997: American Pastoral, first book of the "American trilogy," is published and wins Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
1998: I Married a Communist, the second book of the trilogy, is published and wins Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union. In November Roth receives National Medal of Arts at the White House.
2000: Publishes The Human Stain, final book of American trilogy, which wins PEN/Faulkner Award in U.S., the W. H. Smith Award for Best Book of the Year in the U.K., and the Prix Medicis for the best foreign book of the year in France.
2001: The Dying Animal, final book of the Kepesh trilogy, and Shop Talk, a collection of interviews with and essays on Primo Levi, Aharon Appelfeld, I. B. Singer, Edna O'Brien, Milan Kundera, Ivan Klíma, Philip Guston, Bernard Malamud, and Saul Bellow, and an exchange with Mary McCarthy, are published. Roth receives highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient," previously awarded to Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, among others.
2002: Roth wins the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
2004: The Plot Against America, which becomes a bestseller and wins the W.H. Smith Award for best book of the year in the U.K, is published.
2005: Roth becomes only the third living writer to have his works collected in The Library of America. The first two volumes, Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962 and Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972, are published in September.
2006: Everyman is published. Roth becomes the fourth recipient of the PEN's highest writing honor, the PEN/Nabokov Award. The third volume in the Library of America Philip Roth edition, Philip Roth: Novels 1973-1977, is published.
2007: Roth is awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman. Exit Ghost is published. The fourth volume in the Library of America Philip Roth edition, Philip Roth: Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy & Epilogue 1979-1985, is published.
2008: Indignation is published. The fifth volume in the Library of America Philip Roth edition, Philip Roth: Novels and Other Narratives 1986-1991, is published.