A politically charged alternate history in which Aryan supremacist hero Charles Lindbergh unseats FDR in 1940—with catastrophic consequences for America’s Jews.
Roth’s latest (and one of his most audacious) is narrated by a fictional character named Philip Roth, who describes the impact of Lindbergh’s presidency (linked ominously to “Lindy’s” cordial relationship with fellow statesman Adolf Hitler) on Newark insurance salesman Herman Roth, his stoical wife Bess, and their sons Philip and Sanford (“Sandy”). Novelist Roth skillfully constructs a thickly detailed panorama of urban Jewish life, featuring such vividly developed characters as Philip’s truculent cousin Alvin (wounded in a “Jewish” European war, and permanently damaged), his suggestible maternal aunt Evelyn (who adores Lindbergh), and Evelyn’s influential fiancé, silver-tongued conservative apologist Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf. The latter two pay dearly for their naively placed allegiances. But so do the passionately skeptical Roths: first, when Sandy’s summer on a Kentucky farm imbues him with “American” (in fact anti-Semitic) values; and later, following the 1942 Homestead Act, purportedly conceived to relocate eastern seaboard Jews throughout Middle America, actually an ominous harbinger of how Lindbergh plans to solve “the Jewish problem.” The tight focus on the Roths itself shifts when Lindbergh-hating columnist Walter Winchell announces his presidential candidacy, violence escalates alarmingly, martial law is imposed, war with Canada (whence many Jewish families flee) is anticipated, and a savagely ironic turn of events returns FDR to the national spotlight—but doesn’t assuage Herman Roth’s all-too-justifiable fears. The story gathers breakneck velocity and intensity, ending perhaps too abruptly (and, perhaps, pointing the way to a sequel). But hilarious and terrifying by turns, it’s a sumptuous interweaving of narrative, characterization, speculation, and argument that joins The Ghost Writer (1979) and Operation Shylock (1993) at the summit of Roth’s achievement.
An almost unbelievably rich book, and another likely major prizewinner.