History: Published in 2004. The novel depicts a United States in the 1940s that was anti-Semitic. Roth had written in his autobiography, The Facts, of the racial and antisemitic tensions that were a part of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. Several times in that book he describes children in his neighborhood being set upon simply because they were Jewish.
Plot: The novel follows the fortunes of the Roth family during the Lindbergh presidency, as anti-Semitism becomes more accepted in American life and Jewish-American families like the Roths are persecuted on various levels. The narrator and central character in the novel is the young Philip, and the care with which his confusion and terror are rendered makes the novel as much about the mysteries of growing up as about American politics. Roth based his novel on the isolationist ideas espoused by Lindbergh in real life as a spokesman for the America First Committee and his own experiences growing up in Newark, New Jersey.
Review: I really tried to like it, but I really didn’t. It’s just about a Jewish kid trying to describe his experiences during the war. But it didn’t really happen that way, it’s what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had won the presidency. Maybe it’s sort of a slam on the election of Bush. I’m not sure.
Opening Line: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.”
Closing Line: “The boy himself was the stump, and until he was taken to live with his mothers married sister in Brooklyn ten months later, I was the prosthesis.”
Quotes: “And what do they do with the little foreskins? After it’s off – do you know what they do?”. “No”, I told him. “Well”, said Uncle Monty, “They save them up, and when they got enough they given them to the FBI to make agents out of.”