In "The Plot Against America," Roth returns to a pivotal point in American history, alters the outcome, and revises his life story accordingly. The crucial moment Roth selects is the presidential election of 1940: in Roth's fictionalized America, incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt loses to Charles Lindburgh. Roth constructs his novel around Lindburgh's political leanings, a side-note that textbooks generally play down. In "The Plot Against America," Lindburgh emerges as an anti-Semitic leader who conspires with Adolf Hitler and allies a democratic country with the Aryan politics of the Axis nations.
In 1940, Philip Roth is a happy-go-lucky third-grader in Newark, New Jersey. Philip's 12-year-old brother, Sandy, is a budding artist. His father sells insurance; his mother is president of the PTA. The family lives peacefully in a predominantly middle-class neighborhood—and like the Roth family, their Newark neighborhood is largely Jewish.
When Lindburgh enters the White House, the Roth family's sense of security turns topsy-turvy. Lindburgh keeps the U.S. out of war—but at what expense? As newsreels slowly make their way across the Atlantic, the residents of Newark begin to see that Lindburgh's so-called "advocacy of peace" is really approval for Hitler's genocide of the Jewish people. Philip's 18-year-old cousin, Alvin, heads north, enlists with the Canadian commandos, and joins the war against Hitler. Sandy, meanwhile, is recruited by Just Folks, a program implemented by Lindburgh's newly established Office of American Absorption (OAA), to spend a summer on a Kentucky farm. Sandy's decision sparks the first of many tensions within the Roth family, as Mr. and Mrs. Roth grow increasingly suspicious of Lindburgh's motives.
Alvin returns from the warfront without a leg, and Philip struggles to make sense of his rapidly changing world. Suddenly, his once-heroic cousin is a handicapped veteran with anti-American affiliations; the man who was once nothing but a pilot is running the country; his once-peaceful parents are paranoid; and even Philip's once well-behaved big brother is fueling dinner-table feuds. When the 1944 election rolls around, Jewish radio-journalist Walter Winchell steps up to set the country back on track and anti-Lindburghers like Mr. and Mrs. Roth breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, things go from bearably bad to barely bearable when Winchell is assassinated and the OAA begins to transfer successful Jewish families to isolated, Christian towns. Fearing the worst, Mr. Roth quits his job as an insurance agent. Tensions continue to escalate when President Lindbergh disappears mysteriously, and riots break out across the nation. FDR is restored to power as Americans slowly gain awareness of Lindbergh's role in a Nazi plot to win world domination. In this way, Roth's novel moves through a somewhat different history to reach a very familiar present-- U.S. involvement in World War II, Hitler's defeat, and the preservation of democracy.
This report prepared by Tracie Amirante