(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In the 1940 of Philip Roth’s reimagined history, many Americans are so afraid that President Franklin D. Roosevelt is leading the country into the war in Europe that the Republican Party nominates not Wendell Wilkie but Charles A. Lindbergh, the hero who was the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. To the great consternation of American Jews, Lindbergh wins the election. Jews are concerned because Lindbergh not only has admired the German Luftwaffe but also has accepted a medal from Adolf Hitler himself, a clear sign of his pro-German sympathies.

As nine-year-old Philip Roth narrates events, the Roth family—including Philip’s father and mother, Herman and Besse, and his older brother, Sandy—and their friends in the Jewish section of Newark, New Jersey, are terribly upset by this turn of events and fear the worst. They suspect that the kinds of anti-Semitism that Hitler has propounded and is rapidly carrying out in Germany and in the parts of Europe that he has conquered will, under Lindbergh’s administration, begin to happen in the United States. The first experience that they have of this intolerance comes during a trip to Washington, D.C., where they are expelled from their hotel despite their confirmed reservations. This outrage is followed by a scene in a cafeteria where the family experiences anti-Semitic slurs. Worse events are still to follow.

Not all Jews believe as Herman Roth believes. A rabbi, Lionel Bengelsdorf, supports the new administration and soon becomes head of the Office of American Absorption. This new office is established to promote Lindbergh’s plan to disperse Jews from enclaves, such as the one in which the Roths live in Newark, to other parts of the country, thereby promoting their...

(The entire section is 718 words.)