Interview with the Author

Kermit Roosevelt talks to BookTrib about his wounded patriotism, FDR’s greatest mistake, and how it informed his latest book Allegiance

Book Trib
“Kermit Roosevelt and George Takei Reveal the Cost of Allegiance”

By Michael Ruscoe

As America confronts its ongoing struggle with racial and ethnic prejudice, the internment scandal is being re-examined. This fall, George Takei (best known as Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu) brings the story of his own internment as a child to Broadway in the musical Allegiance. And now, a novel of the same name is being released by author Kermit Roosevelt III (great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, and cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who signed the internment order).

Allegiance coverThe novel Allegiance (Regan Arts, 2015) is a murder mystery about governmental abuse of power, corporate greed and political influence, and an idealistic young lawyer trying to do what’s right. Roosevelt, himself a lawyer who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter, once believed his government could do no wrong, but he became disillusioned after 9/11. How much of Allegiance is true? “Everything except the murder,” Roosevelt says. “And it can happen again.”

Michael Ruscoe: You’re in a unique position of being related to a central figure of this historical novel. How did that familial connection affect your writing of Allegiance?

Kermit Roosevelt: It affected the writing in a couple of ways. I feel affection for FDR—I think he was a great president. And part of the point of telling this story was to show that even good people can do bad things, that you can’t always trust someone because they seem like the right sort of person… I felt like saying this about a member of my family might be an effective way to make the point.

More generally, I think that my ancestors have given me probably a greater than typical sense of identification with the government. I think we should all identify with the government to some extent. It’s a democracy; the government acts in our name, and we bear some responsibility for what it does. But I did, and still do, probably feel that identification a little more. Which made it especially painful for me to see the government doing things I thought were misguided, doing things I thought were wrong.

That pain is something I tried to express in the book; it’s something my narrator also feels. It’s a sort of wounded patriotism, because I think it’s also important to understand that the government is not America. The government can do bad things—that doesn’t mean we’re a bad country. But it does mean that we the people need to stand up and say, ‘That’s not my America. My America doesn’t do these things.’