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The Unlikely Blessings of Living on Borrowed Time in a Leased Land 407

Jews in Alaska had, by 2007, already lived on borrowed time and

leased land for over fifty-nine years. Disappointment has become the

keynote of their lives as they suffered one setback after another;

Landsman is no exception. He is a Jew about to be expelled from

his homeland to seek his luck on foreign soil. His cynicism and

pessimism bear only superficial resemblances to Hammett and

Chandler’s tough-guy detectives, for, unlike them, his losses are

more substantial and cannot be willed away. He knows, as

everybody else in the novel knows, that he needs to take action to

find himself a “place” to live. With time running out, only a few

options are still available. He needs to assimilate or emigrate, both

of which involve meeting various conditions, or he could join the

struggle to found a Zionist state in Israel.

Landsman is too busy abandoning himself to alcohol to

consider any of these options. While he drinks to numb himself,

others come to their own solutions. A careful scrutiny of the three

options outlined above suggest that the Jews seem to believe that the

Jewish problem can only be resolved by either founding a new state

or assimilating into an existing one, perhaps the US. That is to say,

the Jewish problem has become a political problem, in its narrowest

sense. It is this reduction of the problematic of “Jewishness” to an

identitarian issue with a nationalist and redemptive strain that

Chabon is calling into question. Without denying the importance of

the nation-state, Chabon draws the reader’s attention to the high

price individual Jews may have to pay if they choose to give their

own life narrative a historical causality and a singular teleology,

oriented towards the nation-building project, so that they disavow

the possibility of thinking outside of the framework of the “political,”

especially the framework of the statist form of identification.

Chabon goes further than simply calling into question the Zionists’

embrace of nationalism; he has Landsman eventually recognize

other options for the future of his people, options that seem

resonant with the theological strains within the Jewish tradition.

However, Landsman only learns to take a different perspective in