This book is far from new, but like a lot of the things I read, it’s been on my radar for a long time. And fortunately (or unfortunately), the story is timeless. Set during the early years of World War Two, it’s the imagined tale of the isolationist faction of the U.S populace finding a hero who promises to keep them, and the country, out of war.
With no political or governing experience but with notable accomplishments in more visible theaters, with admitted admiration for fascist leaders and their philosophies and disdain for Jews and other minorities and FDR’s Democratic leadership, the heroic figure rallies huge crowds who swallow his empty promises and right-wing rhetoric. Then he waits in the wings while the Republican convention delegates fail to nominate a more traditional and moderate candidate. With great fanfare he shows up at the convention and gets nominated and saves the day. He barnstorms the country, winning over more and more voters, and when the 1940 election is held, the least qualified candidate in the field, and in all of history, defeats President Roosevelt in a landslide.
The hero? The new president? Charles Lindbergh. The world-famous aviator. The first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. The man who associated with Nazis, who was given a Nazi medal and wore it proudly. Not such a stretch for Philip Roth.
Hard times follow, of course. Europe struggles against the Nazi onslaught. In the U.S., Jews live in fear. Laws are passed. Crowds of Jew-hating and -killing thugs go unpunished. And so it goes.
As you would expect with Philip Roth, the writing is admirable. The characters, real and imagined, are engaging and memorable. The story, either the one he tells or the one we can extrapolate from it and apply to the current atmosphere in this country, is well-imagined and -told, and above all, scary.