Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Review: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

I had to check to make sure The Plot Against America was fiction. Perhaps that makes me gullible. I think that makes it a really good novel.

There's a reason Philip Roth has won the Pulitzer. He’s a great story-teller, and everyone should read his books.

New York Times’ Paul Berman does a much better job extolling the wonder of this book, so I’ll leave the rest of the praise for him. What I can say is that this novel is terrific, but it’s a real struggle for me to finish it.

It's long-winded, sort of like your grandpa (my dziadek) is telling me a story about his life, except it’s much better because it’s a story—and you can't tell. You get lost in the words and, before you know it, night has come and you’re still reading.

Set at the beginning of the Second Great World War, it's the story about a Jewish family from a tiny suburb of Newark, New Jersey. There are a vast number of characters, and they do not all stay in the story. They come and go as transiently as the members of your own circle of family and friends. Yet the story is told in a singular voice, that of the youngest son.

Through his eyes, I watched Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to complete a solo flight from New York City to Paris, France, become a politician. And as quickly as that, he becomes the president of the United States. But Lindy has an agenda—he is in league with Nazi Germany and it terrifies the Newark Jews.

Slowly, but surely, we watch the United States descend into a chaos that chills the bone, even though you know it’s not real. Roth uses his words to make you think it’s real; not just a story, he teaches you about the time period.

For instance, The Plot Against America introduced me to the historical meaning of a party line—having to be on a phone line with several people on it at the same time because you can't afford to have your own private line.

This book is chilling because it makes you wonder if it really happened (or could have happened). Berman says it best, “The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous, and, at the same time, creepily plausible.”

This is one I’m recommending to everyone.


Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Very interesting review. I have yet to read anything by Roth but this just might push him onto my list.

Olga said...

Thanks, Padfoot (or is it Prongs?)! It took awhile for me to finally scratch him off the list, but it was well worth it. I can't recommend him enough.