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Eleanor Vs. Ike

by Robin Gerber

      Robin Gerber's latest novel is a timely and clever read for the political times in which we live. A wonderful tale for those who love alternate history scenarios, for those who enjoy reading about this volatile time in our nation's past, and for those who delight in the strength of Eleanor Roosevelt. The time is 1952. WWII is over, yet another explosive war has begun: the "police action" in Korea. The presidential race promises to be hot and heavy with Ike on one side, and Adlai Stevenson on the other.

A sudden and very unexpected event thrusts the much-beloved Eleanor Roosevelt into the limelight as the Democratic candidate for president, against the highly-popular WWII hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower. So perfectly timed against the backdrop of our own dynamic, historical, precedent setting 2008 election, this book evokes a time when a woman didn't run for major office and where a man's word was law - provided he was a white man! Fast-paced and full of tales from behind the scenes, the reader is caught up, not only in the campaigns, but also by the people behind them. The McCarthy era is beginning, Nixon is starting to make himself known, and, although the press is not yet as powerful as they are today, there are plenty of hints about candidate peccadilloes.

It is of some concern that, whether current or past, writers seem to feel the need to point out sexual exploits, and various inappropriate behaviors, of those in office... or running for office. This book is no exception, dealing with Ike's purported love affair with the Englishwoman Kay Summersby Morgan, and dredging up rumors about Eleanor's affairs and sexual orientation. Yes, such issues have been part of the political scene, and always of prurient interest, yet perhaps this book could have stood alone without such additions to the plotline.

Eleanor had much to offer the world, and her country, not only during FDR's lifetime, but also in the following years. The book touches on a brief and charming chance encounter between the candidate, Eleanor, and 5-year-old Hillary Rodham, as well as others whose lives she affected. The behind-the-scenes views of political maneuvering and the hyper behaviors of those who want to be close to power are also evocative of our own times. Fascinating looks at a television debate, mimicking that which occurred years later between Kennedy and Nixon, give the reader such a logical perspective that we are left wondering why Eleanor didn't run after all! She certainly had the popularity, the skills and the wherewithal to make a viable run for the presidency. How different things might have been if she had done so!

Robin Gerber writes this book from a deep understanding of Eleanor Roosevelt, having written about her before, in a non-fictional leadership guide, using Eleanor's words and perspectives. In addition, the knowledgeable use of real characters, true events, and wily fictional strategists, brings to Eleanor Vs. Ike a personal, believable intensity for the reader.  Eleanor (both in the book and in real life) had the support of the Unions, the Black Americans and, of course, the women. Yet in the novel, the KKK was adamant that she needed to be stopped, and assassination attempts were made, which makes the book feel so relevant and current, knowing what we know now about this enthralling epoch of American history. The cyclical nature of politics is like all other trends in human history; what goes around comes around!

Certainly, a recommended title for anyone who wants to have their imagination charged with possibilities, and their perceptions of the past-that-might-have-been challenged anew. Read it with an open mind, and heart, looking to the potential in the future of the American political scene. Enjoy!

The Book

Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins
January 8, 2008
Trade-sized Paperback
Alternate History / Political Fiction
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The Reviewer

Laura Strathman Hulka
Reviewed 2008
© 2008