Review: The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth
What if one thing in history didn’t turn out quite the same way? It's an interesting parlor game.
What if the Normans had failed in their invasion? What if the Czar and his family had not been shot? How would things be different if Hitler had died in jail?
Philip Roth takes the twist-of-fate question one step further. In The Plot Against America, he asks: What if Charles Lindbergh had stepped into the fray in 1940 when the Republicans were searching for a candidate to beat Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Lindbergh was a hero to America in those days, with a dash of melancholy thrown in after the kidnapping and death of his son. Hero worship and some good PR can go along way in politics, as we all know. In Roth’s 1940, Lindy not only wins his party’s nomination, but the excitement of his celebrity and the nervousness over a looming World War carry him through to a huge presidential victory.
In the book, Lindbergh runs on the no-war ticket, promising America that he will keep the country out of “Europe’s problems.” In reality, America’s hero related to Adolf Hitler’s ideology and actually visited the German leader several times.
Roth plays on that bit of true history, expanding on it with Lindbergh’s eventual siding with Hitler on the “Jewish question.” But Lindbergh’s fictional Presidential administration makes the shift quietly and slowly, so slowly that most of the country doesn’t realize it’s happening. Unless they’re Jewish.
In a disquieting move (and by disquieting I mean effective and disturbing), Roth inserts this story into his own childhood, his own family. He plays out the Lindbergh scenario with his relatives as central players. They are Jewish and in the book they are also divided over Lindbergh’s intentions and decisions.
Philip’s brother, Sandy, participates in a Just Folks program that sends city kids to country farms to teach them about the land, but it might be a cover to convert Jewish children to Christianity. Their cousin Alvin sees the truth before most and joins the Canadian army to fight Hitler, only to return without a limb and without hope. Philip's aunt teams with a charismatic rabbi who assures the Jews that nothing sinister is afoot, and then finds himself arrested in the middle of the night.
Friends and family are caught up in a cultural and political shift that they can’t quite believe could happen in America. To speak against the government is considered “unpatriotic.” And small shifts in the political landscape create huge potholes for those on the wrong side of the ideological tracks.
Yes, that’s a shiver you feel. (2005 - Random House)
Other Recommended Books by Philip Roth - American Pastoral, Nemesis, Indignation
Recipe: Sour Cherry Pork Roast
Before you think I am entirely tasteless (pun intended) for partnering this pork recipe with a novel that is so focused on the Jewish faith, let me point out that pork is a very central plot point for the book. That and family. Years ago, I had an amazing pork roast that was similar to this. I played with the recipe and made it my own and now it is a dish I serve often for family occasions. That is why I chose this recipe to accompany The Plot Against America.
1 3-pound pork loin roast 1/4 tsp. salt
1 10-oz jar cherry preserves or jam 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbs. corn syrup 1/4 tsp. cloves
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Salt and pepper the roast and then place on a shallow roasting pan rack. Roast for about 2 hours, uncovered.
Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. The sauce should start to thicken. Remove roast from oven and brush about 1/3 of the sauce over the roast. Keep the rest of the sauce warm, but don't let it burn. Then continue cooking the roast for about 30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer hits 170 degrees when inserted in the roast. Remove roast and let rest for 10 minutes. Then slice and serve, with the rest of the sauce served in a bowl on the side. (Recipe my own)