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The Unlikely Blessings of Living on Borrowed Time in a Leased Land 399

their alternate history novels. The “what if” scenario allows both

writers to speculate on the difficult questions that the Holocaust has

thrust upon human beings; namely, whether it could be possible for

the Holocaust to happen elsewhere, perhaps even in the United

States, and whether it is possible that humans may have failed to

learn the lesson of the Holocaust; that is, history, traumatic as it is,

maybe endlessly repeated, in different forms and guises. At the core

of these questions lies the desire to search for an alternative to, or

an exception from, what is perceived to be the norm of modernity

the pervasiveness of violence, a drive towards paralysis and death,

and a homelessness that leads only to dead-ends. In a sense, both

Roth and Chabon, in their different ways, believe in the possibility

of humankind’s finding a different way of conducting ourselves and

interacting with others, one that could lead to our intervening in,

and suspending the logic of identity at the heart of, both the modern

nation-state and liberal individualism. The concern of both these

authors is that fantasies of exceptionalism ultimately encourage and

endorse exclusionism and violence, even though they have trodden

on divergent pathways and propose different critiques of the

fantasies of exceptionalism.

In a way, both Roth’s and Chabon’s alternate-history novels

can be regarded as responses to the tyranny of History; that is, its

linearity and causality. At the root of what-if thinking, Adam Rovner

posits, is a “serious impulse: to reconcile the role of chance with our

‘search for a useful past’” (2011: 131). Catherine Gallagher, in her

seminal article, “Telling It Like It Wasn’t,” identifies two kinds of

counterfactual narratives, one of which is organized “around those

multiple forks or around repetitions with variations” (2010: 22) and

the other of which follows easily identifiable “bi-linear structures”

(23). It is the latter, with its highlighting the possibilities that

unrealized pasts are still alive and even shaping the future (19), that

largely accounts for the significant increase, both in number and in

popularity, of counterfactual fictions in the past two decades. With

its folding of multiple temporalities, counterfactual fiction proffers