The Next Chapter

Jordan Tannahill reviews Philip Roth's The Plot Against America in light of Margaret Atwood's The Testaments

The playwright and columnist explains why Roth's 2004 novel could be compared to Margaret Atwood's latest novel.
Jordan Tannahill is an award-winning, playwright, author and theatre director from Ottawa. (CBC)

This interview originally aired on Oct. 26, 2019.

Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author, theatre director and The Next Chapter columnist. Tannahill won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for drama for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom and wrote his debut novel Liminal in 2018.

He read The Plot Against America, a 2004 novel by late American author Philip Roth, and talks about what it shares with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments.

The Plot Against America 

"Philip Roth's The Plot Against America has been getting a lot of attention lately, given it was written in 2004. It is an alternative history, centred in an autofiction way, around a young Philip Roth and the Roth family living in America. It takes, as the centre of focus, the 1940 U.S. presidential election and posits what would happen if Franklin D. Roosevelt had been defeated by Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator.

"Charles Lindbergh, aside from being a great figure of aviation, had fascist tendencies and was fairly sympathetic to Hitler's project in Europe. He runs for the leadership of American First Party, takes the presidential election in a surprising turn of events. What unfolds from there is a pernicious, creeping anti-Semitism that takes hold of the country."

The Canadian connection

"Canada plays a very interesting role in this book. It's similar to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, as Canada exists as a kind of refuge for progressive values.

"There are a number of interesting scenes that involves this idea. For instance, Phillip's Jewish parents and their friends muse openly amongst themselves about possibly moving to Canada if things were to progress further. His mother also takes up a paid job for the first time in her life and opens a bank account in Montreal. She begins making regular deposits into it. Phillip's cousin, out of solidarity with the Allied cause in the Second World War, joins the Canadian army fighting on behalf of the British Empire. Canada represents a spectre of hope that animates the lives of these characters."

Jordan Tannahill's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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