A friend of mine from college actually read this one and I thought it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out. I knew next to nothing about the plot, but the cover looked cool and it had to do with WWII so I was sold.
I had never heard of Philip Roth before reading this book, I know shame on me, but this was certainly a great read to be introduced to such a wonderful writer. Roth attended Becknell and University of Chicago where he received a M.A. in English Literature. He later taught at Princeton, Iowa, and Pennsylvania universities in their writing departments. His most famous novel is Portnoy’s Complaint, which is famous for being controversial for its use of sexual themes among other things. I have not read it so I cannot comment, but as always I do not know what it would take to truly shock me. The thing I found most surprising about Roth is that he has won almost every award out there that is available to win for a writer. He is kind of the under the radar writer that is really really good that most normal folks have probably never hear of. I am guilty of this as well. I knew he was famous I just did not realize how famous or how accomplished he was. According to Wikipedia 5 of his novels or short stories are being made into movies. Pretty impressive.
This story takes place during the months and years leading up to and during WWII. The story follows some of the major people involved in the major events that lead up to the war. Charles Lindberg had just made his famous flight across the Atlantic while meeting with Hitler and sympathizing with his ideals. Upon returning to the US he is an advocate of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In somewhat of a surprise he is elected to run for president and in a bizarre election, wins. Immediately he signs a treaty with Germany and Japan promising to stay out of their expanding empires. Soon after his son is kidnapped and a plane in which Charles is flying on goes missing. He is later presumed dead. After these events FDR is elected to the presidency and the US soon enters the war to stop Germany and Japan.
Because I it has been so long since I had read this one I had to skim back through the book and reread what exactly had happened in the book. I had forgotten a large portion of it, but it all came flooding back. I am actually mad at myself for forgetting how complex and well put together this story was. There is a perfect melding of history and fiction, and even a masterfully done job of adding in so many famous events that happened during this time period.
Do you ever have a scene stuck in your head and you cannot remember what it’s from. That happened to me with this book. During the story Lindberg uses some of the same policies as Nazi Germany, mainly the anti-Semitic ones and instills new policies where younger inner city Jews are made to go live on farms and move to the suburbs for the summer. Surprisingly, the story is told from Roth’s point of view as a small child living in New York, his older brother is shipped to Kentucky where he lives and works on the farm for the summer. He learns about physical labor working in the tobacco fields among many other farm duties. For some reason I had a few scenes from this part of the book stuck in my head and I could never remember where I got them from. Being from Kentucky it is always cool to see events in any story happen near your home. There are also some important events that take place in Louisville, so that is pretty neat as well.
There is so much history going on in this book that, if you are like me then you will thoroughly enjoy it. This is a work of historical fiction, although I think it is way more fiction and a sort of alternate history exploration, than actual historical fact. But Roth does a fabulous job of exploring so many different and fascinating ideas in this alternate tale of history. He honestly does explore almost every aspect of what could have happened during this time. His detail is unparalleled, and there are so many small things that were not overlooked that really make for a great story. When a writer or an artist is overly concerned with event the smallest details, you know you are in for something special. I will say that I am by no means an expert on what was going on during this time period, but it was interesting to learn more about it.
I did know that Lindberg made his famous flight and that his son was kidnapped and although they did convict and execute a man for the crime, there is still much deliberation as to if they got the right guy. I did not realize that Lindberg was such an icon of the time and that he was adamant about not entering into WWII. I could not find anything about Lindberg meeting Hitler, but he did receive an award from him for his trans-Atlantic flight. What I did find interesting was that he was very interested in politics and seemed deeply involved writing letters to British and American officials alike. As far as I can tell he did seem to oppose the war mainly because he felt that the aftermath would result in Russia taking over a very politically weakened and destroyed Europe. Again don’t take my word for this, I encourage that if you are interested look it up and do some further reading on your own.
I enjoyed this book, it was a fun read that was full of excitements and also provided some very interesting learning opportunities about a period I was unfamiliar with. This book is very well researched and masterfully crafted to give a wonderful reading experience for the history aficionado. I will also say that even if you are not a history buff there is enough for anyone to be enthralled as it is beautifully written. It was also a NYT Best Seller, so you know it has to be pretty good to make that list. I recommend this book, and I assure you you will not be disappointed with your time spent on this one.