Excerpt from The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth X
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 400 pages
    Sep 2005, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Sons of bitches!" my father said. "Fascist bastards!" and then the light changed and we drove on in silence to look at the office building where he was about to get his chance to earn more than fifty dollars a week.

It was my brother who, when we went to bed that night, explained why my father had lost control and cursed aloud in front of his children: the homey acre of open-air merriment smack in the middle of town was called a beer garden, the beer garden had something to do with the German-American Bund, the German-American Bund had something to do with Hitler, and Hitler, as I hadn't needed to be told, had everything to do with persecuting Jews. The intoxicant of anti-Semitism. That's what I came to imagine them all so cheerfully drinking in their beer garden that day—like all the Nazis everywhere, downing pint after pint of anti-Semitism as though imbibing the universal remedy.

My father had to take off a morning of work to go over to the home office in New York—to the tall building whose uppermost tower was crowned with the beacon his company proudly designated "The Light That Never Fails"—and inform the superintendent of agencies that he couldn't accept the promotion he longed for.

"It's my fault," announced my mother as soon as he began to recount at the dinner table what had transpired there on the eighteenth floor of 1 Madison Avenue.

"It's nobody's fault," my father said. "I explained before I left what I was going to tell him, and I went over and I told him, and that's it. We're not moving to Union, boys. We're staying right here."

"What did he do?" my mother asked.

"He heard me out."

"And then?" she asked.

"He stood up and he shook my hand."

"He didn't say anything?"

"He said, 'Good luck, Roth.'"

"He was angry with you."

"Hatcher is a gentleman of the old school. Big six-foot goy.  Looks like a movie star. Sixty years old and fit as a fiddle. These are the people who run things, Bess—they don't waste their time getting angry at someone like me."

"So now what?" she asked, implying that whatever happened as a result of his meeting with Hatcher was not going to be good and could be dire. And I thought I understood why. Apply yourself and you can do it—that was the axiom in which we had been schooled by both parents. At the dinner table, my father would reiterate to his young sons time and again, "If anybody asks 'Can you do this job? Can you handle it?' you tell 'em 'Absolutely.' By the time they find out that you can't, you'll already have learned, and the job'll be yours. And who knows, it just might turn out to be the opportunity of a lifetime." Yet over in New York he had done nothing like that.

"What did the Boss say?" she asked him. The Boss was how the four of us referred to the manager of my father's Newark office, Sam Peterfreund. In those days of unadvertised quotas to keep Jewish admissions to a minimum in colleges and professional schools and of unchallenged discrimination that denied Jews significant promotions in the big corporations and of rigid restrictions against Jewish membership in thousands of social organizations and communal institutions, Peterfreund was one of the first of the small handful of Jews ever to achieve a managerial position with Metropolitan Life. "He's the one who put you up for it," my mother said. "How must he feel?"

"Know what he said to me when I got back? Know what he told me about the Union office? It's full of drunks. Famous for drunks. Beforehand he didn't want to influence my decision. He didn't want to stand in my way if this was what I wanted. Famous for agents who work two hours in the morning and spend the rest of their time in the tavern or worse. And I was supposed to go in there, the new Jew, the big new sheeny boss the goyim are all dying to work for, and I was supposed to go in there and pick 'em up off the barroom floor. I was supposed to go in there and remind them of their obligation to their wives and their children. Oh, how they would have loved me, boys, for doing them the favor. You can imagine what they would have called me behind my back. No, I'm better off where I am. We're all better off."

>From The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.  Copyright by Philip Roth 2004.  All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...
  • Book Jacket: The Driest Season
    The Driest Season
    by Meghan Kenny
    On a summer afternoon in 1943, an almost sixteen-year-old Cielle Jacobson walks into the family barn...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.