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The Unlikely Blessings of Living on Borrowed Time in a Leased Land 397

These are strange times to be a Jew.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

(Chabon, 2007: 4)


Four years after the 9/11 attacks, Philip Roth published


Plot Against America

in which he reimagines a counterfactual

scenario wherein, as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s failure to

win the 1940 presidential election, the United States enters the

Second World War in 1942 rather than in 1941. Due to this one-

year delay anti-Semitism flourishes on American soil, culminating in

the government’s implementing two neo-Nazi programs that curtail

the human rights of American Jews: the Just Folks Initiative, which

takes Jewish children away from their families to be reeducated by

Christian foster families, and the Homestead ’42 Program, which

relocates urban Jews to the Midwest. In speculating on the

possibility that the US, which prides itself on its exemplary

democracy and moral exceptionalism, is quite capable of turning

itself into a neo-Nazi state, Roth uses a counterfactual narrative to

expose a traumatic core of fear at the center of American democracy.

This fear

whites’ fear of Jews, or vice versa, among others

disrupts the exceptionalist narrative of the nation-state America has

written for itself, displacing the ideology of democracy for all with

the ideology of security for the majority, and in so doing

undermining its claim to exceptionalism.


Roth’s fiction, with its


This statement, or its truncated form, “Strange times to be a Jew,” appears at least

six times in the novel (pages 4, 7, 13, 29, 112, 304), and constitutes a leitmotif of

the novel. In her article fittingly entitled, “Strange Times to be a Jew: Alternative

History After 9/11,” Margaret Scanlan highlights the phrase, “strange times to be a

Jew” (2011: 505), which she culls from Chabon’s novel, to examine what political

and ethical lessons can be derived when Chabon juxtaposes “the shock of 9/11 and

moral outrage at the War on Terror” with the legacies of Holocaust (506). While

Scanlan’s argument is incisive, I agree with Alan Gibbs that Chabon’s ambition goes

beyond the juxtaposition of events, past and present, Jewish and non-Jewish, “as

he uses the counterfactual mode as a means to draw parallels between and

demonstrate the evils of all shades of fundamentalism” (2014: 222).


American exceptionalism is a central myth or fantasy governing American’s self-