What do you think?
Rate this book
391 pages, Paperback
First published October 5, 2004
Israel didn’t exist yet, six million European Jews hadn’t yet ceased to exist, and the local relevance of distant Palestine (under British mandate since the 1918 dissolution by the victorious Allies of the last far-flung provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire) was a mystery to me…I pledged allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I eagerly observed its national holidays, and without giving second thought to my affinity for Fourth of July fireworks or the Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration Day double-header. Our Homeland was America.The three most important things in real estate may be location, location, and location, but when it comes to book reviewing, an argument can certainly be made that the three most important things are timing, timing and timing. A review of this book written in 2004, when the book was published, would have been a lot different from a review written in May, 2017, when Philip Roth’s frightening description of the arrival of fascism in the USA seems to be coming to fruition before our eyes.
Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.
It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ” - Philip Roth from the New Yorker articleBut back to the story itself. It is a novel and if we are not engaged, all the parallels in the world will not matter. So, will it grab you and hold on? Would I tell you it did if it did not? Ok, answering a question with a question. Who does that? Who doesn’t? Fine, whatever. Young Phil is an appealing sort, although not without his self-serving, even criminal flaws, indulging as he does in some decidedly reprehensible behavior. Despite Phil’s shortcomings, Sandy’s cooptation, and Evelyn’s collaboration, the family is shown as decent people, real, relatable, struggling to cope with the creeping horrors of fascism on top of the usual struggles of working class people. Another great strength of the novel is the rich portrait Roth paints of the community in Newark in which the family lives, the neighborhood people, merchants, and plenty of colorful characters. A powerful central image of the story was Phil’s stamp collection, an example of a pure appreciation of something beautiful, that is subjected in his dreams to unspeakable treatment.
“The pompous son of a bitch knows everything. It's too bad he doesn't know anything else.”
"--nor had I understood til then how the shameless vanity of utter fools can so strongly determine the fate of others”
“How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination.”
Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
"There's a plot afoot all right, and I'll gladly name the forces propelling it - hysteria, ignorance, malice, stupidity, hatred, and fear. What a repugnant spectacle our country has become! Falsehood, cruelty and madness everywhere"
Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.