Author(s): Philip Roth
Amazon | ShelfariI found this book by dinking around on Shelfari. I made the decision to read it based on a couple of things: a comment about it made by Reno Rambler, the popularity it seemed to carry on that site, and the cover. Having studied German in college and being interested in German history, the swastika on the cover grabbed me and told me I had to check it out. I’m glad I made that decision.
Reading it started off slowly, and if you look at my copy you’ll find a lot of dog ears in the first half of the book. In the second, not so many. I was fascinated by halfway through and then the holiday hit (when I go away, I read a lot). I actually finished the book on the plane to Las Vegas, but it had been a long night of reading before that to get there.
Here’s what I said about it on Shelfari:
I really liked this book. It moved along slowly, but the context in which I read it led me to be completely engulfed by the story as I got about halfway through. One caveat: there is no “event” that turns the plot at any point in time. It’s simply the story of one kid’s view of the turmoil his family faces when the 1940 U.S. election goes a different way than it did in reality. And that family goes through some serious turmoil. Some of it is most certainly self-inflicted. Most of it is impossible to pin down and prove, but true nonetheless.
You get the sense in the end that the events that happened during the story of the book affected the person telling the story (Philip Roth tells it in the first person, with the character being himself) greatly, but hear nothing of how life changed as the book ended. There is no epilogue giving us the remainder, which I suppose is on purpose. It’s not supposed to matter.
What Roth does is take what could very well have been the very mundane and turn it into a tale that grips the reader. Like I mentioned previously, it moves slowly. That’s because it simply tells us what is going on in the lives of one family. Their lives differ very little from day to day, with the possible exception of their being politically astute and Jewish with a president who cavorts with Adolf Hitler. What seems like paranoia at times turns into a serious threat and makes for a life that people in the west would have a very hard time understanding. That’s what really got me. I saw what it’s like to be the outcast—a true outcast, almost by overt policy—in society. With very few exceptions, there are no real outcasts here that are threatened in the way this family was in the book. But there once were in far greater frequency here.
Overall, it was a great book. If you’re interested in historical fiction, this book is a great read. The events of the book are fictitious, and the history is an alternate look from reality, but in doing that, Roth was able to show us how the real history was played out in Nazi Germany. It was well done for that reason.
The comment by Reno Rambler that captured my attention was something I thought about just about every time I had the book in my hands. I fully expected this to be a modern political statement, and it could have been, but I didn’t get that. It appeared to me to be more of a recount of what it’s like to live your life differently from what seems like the rest of society. As someone who admittedly hasn’t ever done that, it helped me to see some things that I might not ever understand fully. I suppose I could read about it all I want but without ever experiencing things like that, I’ll never actually understand what it’s like.
This book is one that differs from the stuff I’ve read recently in that it’s far more broadly appealing. You don’t have to be interested in the same things I am to read this and enjoy it. With that, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys walks on the beach, a good sense of humor, and decent writing.