Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction: Transnational and Multidirectional Memory [1st ed.] 9783030524913, 9783030524920

Drawing on theories of historiography, memory, and diaspora, as well as from existing genre studies, this book explores

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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-vii
Beyond and Before 9/11: A Transnational and Historical Turn (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 1-19
“The Second Coming”: The Resurgence of the Historical Novel and American Alternate History (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 21-49
“America First”: Perpetual Fear, Memory, and Everyday Life in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 51-79
Neo-Internment Narratives: Post-9/11, Cross-racial, and Intergenerational Memories (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 81-114
“Walking a Tightrope”: Nostalgia, American Innocence, and Exceptionalism in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 115-152
Worlding Alternate Histories of the Post-9/11 Era: The Transnational Trend, Normalization, and the Dynamics of Memory (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 153-186
“Our Pearl Harbor Moment, Our 9/11 Moment” (Pei-chen Liao)....Pages 187-192
Back Matter ....Pages 193-203
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Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction Transnational and Multidirectional Memory

Pei-chen Liao

Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction

Pei-chen Liao

Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction Transnational and Multidirectional Memory

Pei-chen Liao Department of Foreign Languages and Literature National Cheng Kung University Tainan, Taiwan

ISBN 978-3-030-52491-3    ISBN 978-3-030-52492-0 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Photography by Steve Kelley aka mudpig / Getty Images This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


I acknowledge support of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan in funding research for sections of this book. At Palgrave Macmillan, Allie Troyanos guided the project through its initial stages. Vinoth Kuppan has been extremely helpful at all points. Two anonymous reviewers provided constructive suggestions that helped me sharpen my argument and expand my research scope. I also appreciate the hard work and long hours put in by my assistant Jennifer Tsai, who took part in the whole editing process and paid attention to the details. The faculty at the Foreign Languages and Literature Department of National Cheng Kung University, where I have taught for ten years, have been extremely supportive. In particular, I would like to thank Shuli Chang, Chao-Fang Chen, and Carolyn Scott for their friendship. Special thanks to Jackie Sumner and her parents for their hospitality and generosity in the summer 2017 when I conducted research in Washington, D.C. for this project. I have presented material at the 25th Annual Conference of the English and American Literature Association at National Chung Hsing University, the 2017 International Conference on Life Writing at Kaohsiung Medical University, and the 53rd ASAK International Conference at Korea University. I thank all those who asked questions and commented on my presentations.




Sections of Chap. 3 appear in “‘America First’: Fear, Memory Activism, and Everyday Life in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America,” Sun Yatsen Journal of Humanities, 46 (2019), 59–78, reprinted by permission of the publisher. Many thanks to my family for their love and confidence in me. This book is for them.


1 Beyond and Before 9/11: A Transnational and Historical Turn  1 2 “The Second Coming”: The Resurgence of the Historical Novel and American Alternate History 21 3 “America First”: Perpetual Fear, Memory, and Everyday Life in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America 51 4 Neo-Internment Narratives: Post-9/11, Cross-racial, and Intergenerational Memories 81 5 “Walking a Tightrope”: Nostalgia, American Innocence, and Exceptionalism in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin115 6 Worlding Alternate Histories of the Post-­9/11 Era: The Transnational Trend, Normalization, and the Dynamics of Memory153 7 “Our Pearl Harbor Moment, Our 9/11 Moment”187 Index193 vii


Beyond and Before 9/11: A Transnational and Historical Turn

If, according to Francis Fukuyama, the end of the Cold War marked “the end of history,” “the end of history” ended, as several critics and commentators have suggested, on September 11, 2001.1 In 1989, in a journal called The National Interest, Fukuyama published an article “The End of History?” which in 1992 he turned into a book, The End of History and the Last Man. In his book, Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War testified to “the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government,” which “may constitute the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’ and the ‘final form of human government,’ and as such constituted the ‘end of history’” (1992, xi). By “history,” Fukuyama did not mean “the occurrence of events” but rather “a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all” (xii). Based on this understanding of History, Fukuyama was convinced that the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism would bring about “a coherent and directional History of mankind that will eventually lead the greater part of humanity to liberal democracy times” (xii). The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, however, struck a stunning blow to Fukuyama’s argument while reviving Samuel Huntington’s early-1990s “clash of civilizations” model. Huntington (1993) envisioned a new phase of world politics in the post-Cold War era, in which major civilizations, such as Western and Islamic civilizations, would clash (22, 25). Huntington’s supporters generally agreed that the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Islamic fundamentalists on September 11 proved his © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




visionary thesis. However, in “The Clash of Ignorance,” Edward Said (2001) sharply criticized Huntington for having made “‘civilization’ and ‘identities’ into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities” and for having ignored “the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history.” No matter how problematic or controversial Fukuyama’s and Huntington’s visions of the post-Cold War era may be, the suggestion that both American and world politics entered a new phase following 2001 appears to be quite commonly accepted by the general public. In “Autoimmunity,” Jacques Derrida (2003) notes that “September 11 (le 11 septembre) gave us the impression of being a major event” (85). Naming the terrorist attacks specifically with a date—September 11 or 9/11—indicates that “something marks a date, a date in history” and that “‘something’ . . . should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar” (Derrida 2003, 86). Nonetheless, was 9/11 really a history-making event? And if so, in what sense? What does it mean to make history? And, finally, if history was really made on 9/11, what and whose history was it? 9/11 has constantly been called an epochal event after which the U.S. and the rest of the world could no longer be the same. Over the intervening two decades since 9/11, there has arisen a sizable body of novels that fictionalize the terrorist attacks and their aftermath, in an attempt to grapple with their historical meanings. This trend is so prominent that a sub-genre called “9/11” or “post-9/11” fiction emerged, which almost immediately garnered both public and scholarly attention. This can be readily seen in the critical acclaim and commercial success received by novels such as Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), John Updike’s Terrorist (2006), Jay McInerney’s The Good Life (2006), Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007).2 Just as the number of 9/11 or post-9/11 novels being published every year has exploded, scholarly books devoted to studying these novels and other literary works have surged. There are essay collections like Ann Keniston and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn’s Literature after 9/11 (2008), followed the next year by Kristiaan Versluys’s Out of the Blue (2009), which approaches the events of 9/11 and their literary representations through the lens of trauma, taking a line of inquiry similar to E.  Ann Kaplan’s earlier work, Trauma Culture (2005). In addition to developing an argument about American literature and trauma after 9/11, Richard Gray’s book, After the Fall, further directs



critical attention to writings that “try to reimagine disaster by presenting us with an America situated between cultures” and that, by “deterritorializing America,” represent “the heterogeneous character of the United States, as well as its necessary positioning in a transnational context” (2011, 17). As such, Gray’s book has heralded a breakthrough in post-9/11 literary studies, raising the bar for later scholars who have likewise challenged American centrism in their studies of transatlantic, immigrant, Muslim, and South Asian novels about and beyond 9/11, as exemplified by Kristine Miller’s Transatlantic Literature and Culture After 9/11 (2014), Susana Araújo’s Transatlantic Fictions of 9/11 and the War on Terror (2015), Tim Gauthier’s 9/11 Fiction, Empathy, and Otherness (2015), Daniel O’Gorman’s Fictions of the War on Terror (2015), Marie-Christin Sawires-Masseli’s Arab American Novels Post-9/11 (2018), and Nukhbah Taj Langah’s Literary and Non-literary Responses Towards 9/11 (2018). My previous book, ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction (2013), partakes as well in those post-9/11 literary and American studies which had taken a transnational turn. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath have clearly intensified the need to shift the critical paradigm to transnationalism, but calls for such a shift had actually been made much earlier in the decade that can be traced as far back as the 1970s. Quoting David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity to posit 1973 “as the year in which the move to the globalized economy is inaugurated,” Theophilus Savvas and Christopher K.  Coffman (2019) also mark it “the year that Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States was founded as a response to the dominance of white male American literature at the Modern Language Association conferences, and the continued circumscription of America, as nation, and idea” (207). Immigration to the U.S., which began steadily rising from its lowest point in 1973, was expected to pose significant challenges to “the academic projections of American innocence found in the seminal texts of American studies—Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land (1950), [and] R. W. B. Lewis’s The American Adam (1955)” (Savvas and Coffman 2019, 207). Nonetheless, Ian Tyrrell’s 1991 article, “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History,” was still cautioning its readers against sinking into the legacy of exceptionalism, a predominant yet mystified concept of American uniqueness with undertones of national superiority built on the liberal tradition. Seeking an alternative, Tyrrell (1991) then suggested the “possibilities of a transnational history,” namely “a simultaneous consideration of differing geographical scales—the local,



the national, and the transnational—in American historical thought” (1033). In the aftermath of 9/11, Amy Kaplan’s 2003 presidential address to the American Studies Association and Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s 2004 address advocated, in a similar vein, a transnational approach to de-­ centering the U.S. Both Kaplan and Fishkin were concerned with American foreign policy and ways in which the Patriot Act, in the name of liberty and democracy, rendered the U.S. a borderless, omnipotent empire that exercised its power over the world while depriving immigrants living in the U.S. of basic human rights. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath are argued to have also played a part in bringing into being the “globalizing narrative” or the “worlding of American literature” (Savvas and Coffman 2019, 208, 206).3 The shifting of the critical paradigm toward the transnational may have been suggested in the 1970s, but it had turned so slowly—being almost halted by the post-9/11 resurrection of the “clash of civilizations” model—that more efforts need to be made in order to successfully shift the paradigm in American studies. The slow yet much needed transnational turn in American studies can be seen as going almost hand in hand with the turn to the historical. Sensing the urgency of addressing the post-9/11 crisis, for example, Kaplan (2004) has issued an appeal to scholars of American studies to “bring to the present crisis our knowledge from juridical, literary, and visual representations about the way such exclusions from personhood and humanity have been made throughout history, from the treatment of Indians and slaves to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II” (7). Evidently, according to Kaplan, the transnational approach almost necessarily entails a historical perspective, a view shared by Fishkin (2005), who likewise contends, “As the transnational becomes more central to American studies, we’ll pay increasing attention to the historical roots of multidirectional flows of people, ideas, and goods and the social, political, linguistic, cultural, and economic crossroads generated in the process” (22). Their ideas echo Tyrrell’s earlier one about transnational history. Nonetheless, violent, racist, and extremist groups now still roam the streets to attack non-whites and immigrants. A critical engagement with the transnational history of the U.S. is as urgently needed now as it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Engaging with the transnational history can create new cultural discourse and forms that, according to Tyrrell, Kaplan, and Fishkin, undermine and bring into question vision of American exceptionalism intertwined with white supremacy and



imperialism, which, under the guise of the liberal tradition, have been hidden largely from public view. Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction examines contemporary novels which, through their use of a transnational lens and evocation of multidirectional memory, provide a wealth of insight into how American history has been made and remade since 9/11. It must be stressed, first and foremost, that what concerns this study is not the rise of the so-called 9/11, post-9/11, or, in the words of Alexander Manshel (2017), the “recent historical” novel. Manshel regards the novels that fictionalize the events of 9/11, their aftermath, and the 2003–2011 phase of the war in Iraq as the “recent historical” novel because they “all share a common temporal setting: the very recent past.” Re-considering 9/11 and post-9/11 fiction in terms of the “recent historical” novel, Manshel underscores how this new genre, by historicizing the recent past, “affords its readers not only narrative satisfaction of historical telos, but also the particularly contemporary pleasure of self-recognition.” In doing so, Manshel argues, the recent historical novel distinguishes itself from the classic one that, as Alfred Sheppard (1930) suggests in The Art and Practice of Historical Fiction, should look back about half a century at least (18). While the latter “begs the question of who one might have been or what one might have done,” the former “asks its readers only: where were you?” (Manshel 2017). Manshel has rightly pointed out the proliferation of contemporary fiction set on September 11 or in its aftermath, but the line between the traditional and the recent historical novel might not be as easily and conveniently drawn as Manshel suggests. It is not, perhaps, a question of “how removed in time must the facts be to be historical” so much as “the temporal distance between the events depicted and the lived experience of the author and her or his readers” (Lewis 2016, 45). As Chap. 2 will further illuminate in more detail, whether it be traditional, recent, or counterfactual, the historical novel is almost inevitably presentist in nature, and both the reader’s and the writer’s emerging present and experiences are forever reshaping and transforming their memories of both the distant and recent past. What I give more serious and careful thought to in this book is the possibility, and the cultural significance, of contemporary readers’ recognizing themselves in a past that is either long gone or that never actually existed. In Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction, I zoom in on another two types of historical fiction published after 9/11. One is set either entirely or almost entirely in the pre-9/11 past, and yet is read by



many reviewers and literary critics as making indirect reference, in the form of allegory or analogue, to the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. When I was researching Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown (2005) for a previous book, I began to see how 9/11 has not only impacted U.S. immigration, foreign policy, and global security at the political level, but also influenced readers’ responses to Rushdie’s novel at the interpretive level. The novel moves back and forth between post-WWII Kashmir and early-1990s Los Angeles. It is undeniably a pre-9/11 historical novel, and yet, since its publication in 2005, several reviewers have mistaken the novel’s depiction of the 1993 World Trade Center attack for 9/11.4 In ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction, I attempt to justify reviewers’ misreading as a response to the influence of Rushdie’s life experience and his strong opinions of Islamic extremism after the 9/11 attacks. It can also be said, with some justification, that the confusion is caused by the similarity between the novel’s pre-9/11 world and the reader’s post-9/11 one. It is tempting to think of this confusion surrounding Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown as an exceptional case, but various discoveries while undertaking the present study have convinced me that it is not. Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine (2002), for example, is argued to have “chillingly evoke[d] the post-9/11 political climate—particularly the War on Terror” (Gauthier 2011, 13), even though it is, unmistakably, a pre-9/11 historical novel about Japanese American internment during WWII. Over the past two decades, 9/11—an overly obvious history-making event—has entered people’s memory, informed people’s frame of mind, and provided a common frame of reference for discussing pre-9/11 American transnational history and any cultural and literary works about it. The other type of contemporary fiction that is also popularly read as a fictional reflection of the post-9/11 condition is alternate history fiction— a sub-genre of the historical novel and science fiction—which presents at least one significant point of divergence from actual history before or after 9/11. Alternate history fiction set in the pre-9/11 era can be best exemplified by Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004b). Notwithstanding Roth’s imagined alternate history, in which Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election and becomes the thirty-third American president, The Plot Against America has been commonly interpreted as a post-9/11 allegory of the Bush administration. In “Real Planes and Imaginary Towers,” for example, Charles Lewis (2008) contends that “the reader of Roth’s novel can sift through the fiction to detect and decipher a pattern of signals linking the novel to 9/11 and the Bush



administration’s response to it in the ensuing years” (246). Since its publication in 2004, more than a few critics pointed to the novel’s “historical, thematic, and figurative evocations for the post-9/11 reader” (Lewis 2008, 246). The post-9/11 political climate in the U.S. has appeared to affect its reader’s interpretations even if The Plot Against America is an alternate history novel that imagines “what if” scenarios at crucial moments before the American entry into WWII. There is also a noteworthy wave of novels, by American and non-American writers, that conjure up alternative worlds, in which the events of 9/11 had either not happened or been remembered differently. The novels under discussion here and their readers’ reception shed light on how 9/11 has been framed as a history-making event, a major event so important and famous that it should forever be remembered, and how it has functioned as a shaper of the present that alters the contemporary readers’ interpretation of past events. In “The Coincidence of Historical Fiction,” Lewis (2016) suggests that three specific novels, Ceraldine Brooks’s March (2005), Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project (2008), and McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (2009), “put the reader in a state of ‘code orange’ alert that approximates the predicament of reading fiction in the post-9/11 era,” even if each of these works “draws on historical figures and events that predate 9/11” (38, 40). According to Lewis (2016), these three very different historical novels present a kind of “code orange” alert when “the reader recognizes, by principles of association, parallels between plot lines, typically involving different historical periods” or “the co-incidence of image and text” (46, 52), as illustrated in the presence of a photograph of Petit in McCann’s novel. Lewis’s study aims at propounding the idea that the genre of historical fiction, albeit more obliquely than Ground Zero novels, “can broaden and enrich what we might mean by deciphering and detecting a relation to 9/11” (2016, 40). I instead scrutinize contemporary historical novels and alternate history novels which are commonly argued to reference 9/11, in order to flesh out the evolving and varying relationship between the past and present, as well as the relationship between memory, identity, and violence in a transnational age. In examining these accounts of various cases of historical American violence and analyzing the post-9/11 readers’ response to them, I am more intrigued by the question of how to bring about and make sense of the intersection of different groups’ histories of victimization in contemporary American multicultural society than how to illuminate the post-9/11 era through the past.



Drawing on theories of historiography, memory, and diaspora, as well as from existing genre studies, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction explores why contemporary writers of different ethnicities are so fascinated with history, how fiction contributes to the making and remaking of the transnational history of the U.S. by thinking beyond and before 9/11, and how the dynamics of memory, as well as the emergent present, influences readers’ reception of historical fiction and alternate history fiction and their interpretation of the past. In reconstructing American transnational history, the novels considered here evoke multidirectional memory. In The Generation of Postmemory, Marianne Hirsch (2012) acknowledges memory as “a form of counter-history,” elicited to seek “justice outside of the hegemonic structures of the strictly juridical, and to engage in advocacy and activism on behalf of individuals and groups whose lives and whose stories have not yet been thought” (15–16). Although the selected novels either recreate the past or change the course of history as seen in the speculative writing of the alternate history, also called “allohistory” (literally “other history”), they are not entirely fictional or counterfactual. Rather, to provide countermemories of contentious histories such as Japanese American internment, many of the novels draw on unofficial historical archives, as well as the writers’ individual memory intermingled with collective memory, postmemory, or cultural memory. These novels employ multidirectional memory insofar as memory is not merely connected to personal experiences but also transmitted across generations and through social communication, as well as various forms of memorialization like memoir, letters, witness accounts, autobiography, documentary, photos, news coverage, and memorials. At the same time, deploying largely realistic modes of representation, historical novels and alternate history novels reveal insight into the importance of the novel as a popular and indispensable carrier of cultural memory of wars, fear, and trauma. While reconfiguring American history by mixing in countermemories of disputed past events, the novels in my analysis add another layer of complexity to multidirectional memory by drawing the reader’s attention to the dialogical exchange of different historical events or the past events as analogies to the novel events emerging in the reader’s present reality. The novels lend a transnational perspective to American history by dealing with important international wars that the U.S. has fought since the mid-­ twentieth century and adopting a comparative approach to juxtaposing two or more disturbing memories. To evoke the reader’s imaginative engagement and mediation with contested histories, the novelists carefully



delineate horrendous consequences of WWII, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror by focusing on ethnic minority groups of, for example, Japanese, Jewish, African, and Muslim Americans. Historical analogies are drawn from the similar experiences of many of the ethnic minority characters despite their involvement in different historical events. As portrayed in the novels, ethnic minority groups are unjustly treated as enemy aliens, suspected as terrorists, or ostracized and excluded in society as unwelcome strangers, even if they were born in the U.S.  African American slavery, Native American removal, Japanese American internment, anti-Semitism, and post-9/11 Islamphobia are brought into dialogue with one another. Concerned with different yet interconnected sites of violence, the novels articulate shared histories of racism, segregation, and displacement. The multidirectional memory of shared histories is suggested in these novels, on the one hand, as the foundations of cross-racial solidarity to counteract the effects of white supremacy and the culture of American imperialism and militarism. On the other hand, it also reveals the writers’ and readers’ perpetual fear of historical recurrence and the urge to find guidance from history. The urge to find guidance from history appears to be stronger than usual when people face sudden and unexpected catastrophes. In the post-9/11 era, the publication of historical novels and alternate history novels in waves, as well as their commercial success and critical acclaim, may be partly a result of such an urge. And yet, the events of 9/11 did not initiate the historical turn in contemporary fiction; rather, a resurgent interest in historical fiction and alternate history fiction already arose in the 1980s and 1990s. Chapter 2, first of all, provides a genre study of contemporary historical fiction and alternate history fiction in comparison with the classical historical fiction and its second coming over the past decades. Although this is a “genre study,” I sidestep the debate over whether the historical novel and serious, literary, alternate history novels should be considered genre fiction or not. Rather, I take the idea of “genre,” as suggested by Tim Lanzendörfer (2015) in The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel, to “encompass not just genre fiction, but all novelistic genres,” namely “to expand our view from Grossman’s supermarket aisle to the literary field at large” (3). I agree with Lanzendörfer that “the novel’s contemporary cultural, societal, and political engagements are best understood through a reflection on its specific engagement with genre” (4). An overview of the history boom and its socio-political and cultural background offers insights into the relations of this boom



with 9/11 and its concomitant apocalyptic imagery. In terms of the literary history of the historical novel, post-9/11 historical fiction differs from classical historical fiction that is primarily concerned with progress and is adapted from national tales. It is also distinguished from postmodern historiographic metafiction that distrusts realism and discounts the immanence of history and truth. There are, however, several close affinities between the historical novels of the 1990s and those post 9/11: telling truth as a literary testimony, blending the author’s auto/biographical elements into the fiction, a catastrophic backdrop, and taking a transnational and multicultural perspective. Parallel to the second coming of historical fiction, alternate history fiction flourished as a literary genre in the 1990s as well, and since then, has become increasingly more realistic in style. Contemplating on the importance of historical events and human agency in making history, several post-9/11 alternate history novels are guided by the principle of plausibility and driven by the inclination toward historical justice that arose within the political setting of the 1980s and 1990s, the decades of redress, when truth and reconciliation commissions were launched in many countries around the world. The multidirectional memory that post-9/11 historical fiction and alternate history fiction elicit and foreground may not, however, be fully comprehended if attention is paid solely to the historical development of the genre itself. Without question, current genre studies help illuminate on the significance of setting, characterization, narrative voice, plot structure, and points of departure for the remaking of history, but we also need to consider the operation of memory in multiple directions in the process of writing and reading historical fiction and alternate history fiction. This book thus complements current genre studies with memory studies, which, I argue, offer perceptive insights into the effect of genre on the construction of memory and the prominent role that the emergent present plays in both the writer’s and the reader’s remembering and making sense of the past. The last section of Chap. 2 establishes a theoretical framework to ground my textual analysis. I borrow the term “multidirectional memory” from Michael Rothberg (2009), whose comparative approach, such as “comparisons, analogies, and other multidirectional invocations,” rethinks Maurice Halbwachs’s notion of collective memory (1980, 1992) in forming cross-cultural understanding of different ethnic groups’ histories of victimization in multicultural and transnational contexts. In the studies of historical fiction and alternate history fiction, such comparisons involve not only the historical events brought into dialogue but also



the mediation of art, the writer’s emplotment, and the reader’s interpretation partly subject to subjective investment and present interests. Therefore, I further complicate Rothberg’s model of multidirectional memory by filling in the concept of cultural memory, Alan Robinson’s action-oriented approach that takes into account “the interplay between past present and past future and present past” (2011, xiii), as well as George Herbert Mead’s (2002) notion of the present as the emergent that shifts the focus of attention from temporality and causality to relativity and sociality as regards the relationship of the past to the present. I organize the subsequent chapters according to the settings in which the historical narratives take place, starting shortly before WWII to the Vietnam War and finally ending with the War on Terror. My textual analysis begins with Roth’s The Plot Against America, the last volume of the “Roth books,” in which Roth uses his own name as the name of the protagonist. Roth embeds his personal memories of anti-Semitism in the 1940s, which are also recorded in his autobiography The Facts ([1988] 1989), within a fictional framework in which Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt and becomes American president. Although, in “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” Roth (2004a) insists that his novel is not intended to “illuminate the present through the past,” a direct analogy was immediately drawn upon its publication between the nation that Roth imagines under Lindbergh and the one actually presided over by Bush, who declared the War on Terror and announced the policy in tandem with a concentration on homeland security that brought drastic changes to Muslim Americans’ lives. Another group of readers read Roth’s novel as a prophecy of the Trump presidency because Trump’s “America First” agenda is evocative of Lindbergh’s, prompting the reader’s speculation that the novel’s imagined nightmare scenarios might become a reality in the Trump era. Chapter 3 explores what drives Roth’s readers, almost in a compulsion, to repetitively see Bush and Trump in fictionalized Lindbergh, how The Plot Against America “illuminate[s] the past through the past” (Roth 2004a), and what the relationship is between the historical past of anti-­ Semitism, the novel’s unrealized past, and the reader’s emergent present. Attending to the entangled relationship of fear, memory, and everyday life, I examine how the novel’s combination of history and alternate history triggers the reader’s multidirectional memory and furnishes a cultural history of powerful fears haunting the American historical consciousness and imagination of “America First” since the 1940s to the present. The



fact that analogies are drawn between Roth’s fictionalized Lindbergh and Bush or Trump, and between American Jews and Muslim Americans, shows that “America First” is less about interventionist or isolationist foreign policy than about a totalizing vision of American history and national identity that, in stressing the nation’s progress, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, disregards the heterogeneity of experiences and identities within the U.S. Most importantly, as Chap. 3 argues, Roth’s novel and the contemporary reader’s response to it manifest that fear is not only a kind of emotion but a habit gradually acquired through frequent and repeated anticipation of the home under threat by expected and unexpected national policies throughout history. In a culture of fear that seems perpetual, Roth’s novel illuminates the influence of fear on how one remembers the past. It further suggests that, if fear is rendered a habit, there are also ways in the everyday life for ordinary individuals to change the habit or to counteract its effects. With reference to WWII, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has become one of the enduring analogies to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Several critics notice the direct analogy between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor in the media coverage in the wake of the terrorist attacks (Rosenberg 2003, 175–77; Doss 2010, 219–20; Landy 2004, 79–81). For example, on September 11, 2001, CBS news anchorman, Dan Rather, referred to 9/11 as “the Pearl Harbor of Terrorism,” and the next day, the New York Times featured thirteen articles mentioning Pearl Harbor. Analogical reasoning is fundamental to human thought and is also a common practice to make sense of novel events. As Emily Rosenberg (2003), in A Date Which Will Live, points out, “Amid the completely unexpected, it may seem reassuring to discern some familiar pattern, to domesticate the strangeness of the present by invoking the familiarity of a past shared and reconstituted in memory” (175). Historical analogies are also used by politicians to fulfil ideological functions. The Bush administration’s analogy of Pearl Harbor to 9/11, as Chap. 4 discusses, “worked to rally patriotism, marshal manly virtues, and promise eventual and righteous triumph to a nervous nation,” but it also raised questions of “the nation’s relationship with immigrant communities” (Rosenberg 2003, 175). Striking back, liberal opponents of the Bush Doctrine evoked memories of the WWII Japanese American internment as a compelling historical analogy to the post-9/11 racial discrimination and hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans.



Published in 2002, Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine and Perry Miyake’s 21st Manzanar, both dealing with Japanese American internment, have been well received by most contemporary reviewers and readers as timely warnings against dangerous excesses of the War on Terror. Furthermore, Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar (2002), as well as Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower (2006), juxtaposes Japanese American internment with Native American removal and exclusion. Chapter 4 reads these three novels by Sansei and Nisei writers as neo-internment narratives because they demonstrate the impact of the emergent present, including the post-9/11 situations, on the reconstruction and reception of Japanese American internment, present a transnational perspective of internment history and interracial relationships, and draw on the postmemory of the generation born after WWII. While Pearl Harbor became a visible icon of popular memory and served as an analogy to 9/11, another icon that was circulated with increased intensity in the wake of 9/11 is French performance artist Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. Petit’s walk has served as an inspiration for a growing number of artistic works which claim to provide post-9/11 mourning. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Petit published his autobiography, To Reach the Clouds (2003), in which he mourned the loss of the Towers and human lives and offered to walk again when the Towers are rebuilt. Mordicai Gerstein’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book, The Man Who Walked between the Towers (2003), was based faithfully on Petit’s memoir, pictures, and news reports. Inspired by both Petit’s memoir and Gerstein’s book, British director James Marsh’s documentary Man on Wire (2008), winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, recreates Petit’s magnificent stunt of 1974 using actual footage of the event mingled with new re-enactments. The Walk, a 2015 3D feature film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, was made in dedication to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. In bringing healing to a wounded society, the representation of Petit’s walk in different cultural forms is infused with a general sense of nostalgia. Irish American writer Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (2009) opens, on August 7, 1974, with New Yorkers looking in astonishment at a figure balanced on a rope in the sky, and ends with a leap fast-­ forwarding to 2006. Although the funambulist remains unnamed throughout the text, he is clearly fictionalized Petit. Many commentators express what Svetlana Boym (2001) in The Future of Nostalgia terms



“restorative nostalgia” by viewing McCann’s reconstruction of fictionalized Petit’s wire walk as a gesture of redemption, an image of hope to its post-9/11 readers. Such a view implies, to some extent, that 9/11 was the last moment of American innocence, and fills contemporary readers with nostalgia for a pre-9/11 world. Chapter 5 examines the cultural and political implications of nostalgia that McCann’s Let the Great World Spin brings to the fore in relation to American innocence and exceptionalism. At first glance, McCann’s recreation of Petit’s walk, like other cultural representations mentioned above, seems to embrace restorative nostalgia for an idealized past and romanticized homeland. A close inspection of the novel reveals that the first three books embedded within the framework of fictionalized Petit’s story rigorously employ a critical approach to the U.S. transnational history and reflect tensions between restorative nostalgia and reflective nostalgia while provoking the ambivalences of longing and belonging, guilt and innocence, the repercussions of repressed memories, and disillusionment with American exceptionalism. I argue that, weaving the accounts of Petit’s walk into the multiple narratives of American soldiers who die in Vietnam, their grieving parents, and African American street prostitutes, McCann’s novel is organized in terms of multidirectional and connective memories, as these multiple and interwoven narratives highlight the lingering legacy of white racism and the Vietnam War and question whether freedom, democracy, and equality are truly uniquely American values. If the aforementioned novels reference the events of 9/11 and their aftermath obliquely, since 2007 a number of novels have emerged that alter the history of the post-9/11 era, disengaging themselves from the moral judgment dominating many of the 9/11 trauma narratives. Scottish novelist Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel (2007) conjectures what the world would be if Albert Gore had been elected American president in 2000. The novel is set in a near future in which 9/11 and the Iraq War had been followed by a bio-engineered flu pandemic, war with Iran, terrorist attacks, and international state-sponsored executions. Israeli-born South African and British writer Lavie Tidhar’s Osama (2011) creates an alternative world, wherein Osama bin Laden becomes the fictional avenger of a series of pulp thrillers and does not actually appear in the novel. American writer Matt Ruff’s The Mirage (2012) replaces the events of 9/11 with 11/9, fictional terrorist attacks launched by Christian fundamentalists on Baghdad on November 9, 2001, and imagines what the world might have been had the sides in the War on Terror been flipped.



Chapter 6 compares Amy Waldman’s The Submission (2011) with the aforementioned alternate history novels, which, through strategies of universalization, aestheticization, and relativization, reworld the post-9/11 world to weaken and challenge readers’ memories of 9/11 as an unprecedented historical trauma. I argue that Waldman’s novel, speculating about what might have happened if the designer of the 9/11 memorial had been a Muslim, exerts the normative force of world literature and is more concerned than the other three novels with worlding in temporal terms. Taking the ongoing processes of worlding and the dynamics of remembering 9/11 as its central themes, The Submission foregrounds the roles that global forces of religious movements, diasporas, and media transmission play in framing people’s view of the world and remembrance of 9/11. The novel’s counterfactual scenarios also resonate with the backlash against Maya Lin’s Vietnam memorial and Park51 in ways that trigger readers’ memories of these racial clashes. Rather than providing post-9/11 allegorical readings of contemporary historical fiction and alternate history fiction at the expense of reducing the past to a reflective or reflexive mirror of the present, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction directs attention to connective and multidirectional memories. To underscore the multidirectionality and connectivity of memories allows us, in the words of Hirsch, “to think divergent histories alongside and in connection with each other” (2012, 21). Set against the historical backdrop of WWII, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror, the novels I analyze tell Jewish, Japanese, white American, African, Muslim, and Native Americans’ stories of trauma and survival. As a means to transmit memories of past events, these novels demonstrate how multidirectional memory can be not only collective but connective, as exemplified by the echoes that post-9/11 readers hear between different histories of violence that the novels chronicle, as well as between the past and the present. These echoes reveal how the American people have been living in a trauma culture of perpetual fear, constantly frightened of and threatened by violent events that happened, could have happened, or might happen to themselves and to others. As these novels suggest, keeping collective and connective memories of violence alive transnationally and transgenerationally can be the key to orienting American society toward a more peaceful and democratic future.



Notes 1. See, for example, Owens’s “The End of The ‘End of History’” (2013), and Cohen’s After the End of History (2009), esp. 3–4. 2. Without doubt, in addition to those I mentioned, there are many other novels that deal with 9/11 and the War on Terror, including Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (2006), Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland (2008), Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil (2008), Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows (2009), Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009), Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (2010), Amy Waldman’s The Submission (2011), Teju Cole’s Open City (2011), Hari Kunzru’s Gods without Men (2011), Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds (2012), and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013), to name just a few. 3. Further studies of what Savvas and Coffman call the “worlding of American literature” can be found in Wai Chee Dimock’s Through Other Continents (2006), Rachel Adams’s Continental Divides (2009), and Paul Giles’s The Global Remapping of American Literature (2011). 4. For a more detailed discussion, see Chapter 2 in my book ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction, esp. 24–25.

References Adams, Rachel. Continental Divides: Remapping the Cultures of North America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Araújo, Susana. Transatlantic Fictions of 9/11 and the War on Terror: Images of Insecurity, Narratives of Captivity. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic, 2001. Cohen, Samuel. After the End of History: American Fiction in the 1990s. Iowa: U of Iowa P, 2009. Derrida, Jacques. “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides.” Philosophy in a Time of Terro: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Ed. Giovanna Borradori. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. 85–136. Dimock, Wai Chee. Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. Doss, Erika. Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010. Fishkin, Shelly Fisher. “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies.” American Quarterly 57.1 (2005): 17–57. Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New  York: Free Press, 1992. Gauthier, Marni. Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American History: Counterhistory. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.



Gauthier, Tim. 9/11 Fiction, Empathy, and Otherness. London: Lexington Books, 2015. Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked between the Towers. New Milford: Roaring Book P, 2003. Giles, Paul. The Global Remapping of American Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2011. Gray, Richard. After the Fall: American Literature Since 9/11. Malden: Wiley-­ Blackwell, 2011. Halbwachs, Maurice. The Collective Memory. Ed. and trans. Francis J. Ditter and Vida Yazdi Ditter. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. ———. On Collective Memory. Ed. and trans. Lewis A.  Coser. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72.3 (1993): 22–49. Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. Kaplan, Amy. “Violent Belongings and the Question of Empire Today.” American Quarterly 56.1 (2004): 1–18. Kaplan, E.  Ann. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005. Keniston, Ann Jeanne, and Follansbee Quinn, eds. Literature after 9/11. New York: Routledge, 2008. Landy, Marcia. “‘America under Attack’: Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and History in the Media.” Film and Television After 9/11. Ed. Wheeler W. Dixon. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. 79–100. Langah, Nukhbah Taj, ed. Literary and Non-literary Responses Towards 9/11: South Asia and Beyond. London: Routledge, 2018. Lanzendörfer, Tim. “Introduction: The Generic Turn? Toward a Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel.” The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel. Ed. Tim Lanzendörfer. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015. 1–16. Lewis, Charles. “Real Planes and Imaginary Towers: Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America as 9/11 Prosthetic Screen.” Literature After 9/11. Ed. Ann Keniston and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn. New York: Routledge, 2008. 246–60. ———. “The Coincidence of Historical Fiction: ‘Code-Orange’ Reading after 9/11.” Radical Planes? 9/11 and Patterns of Continuity. Ed. Dunja M. Mohr and Birgit Dawes. New York: Brill, 2016. 38–55. Liao, Pei-chen.  ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction: Uncanny Terror. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. MacLeod, Ken. The Execution Channel. London: Orbit, 2007.



Manshel, Alexander. “The Rise of the Recent Historical Novel.” Post45. 29 Sept. 2017. Web. 25 Jan. 2020. . Marsh, James, dir. Man on Wire. Icon Productions, 2008. Film. McCann, Colum. Let the Great World Spin. New York: Random House, 2009. Mead, George Herbert. The Philosophy of the Present. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2002. Miller, Kristine, ed. Transatlantic Literature and Culture After 9/11: The Wrong Side of Paradise. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Miyake, Perry. 21st Century Manzanar. Los Angeles: Really Great Books, 2002. O’Gorman, Daniel. Fictions of the War on Terror: Difference and the Transnational 9/11 Novel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine. 2002. New  York: Anchor Books, 2003. Owens, Mackubin Thomas. “The End of The ‘End of History.’” National Review. 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2020. . Petit, Philippe. To Reach the Clouds: My High-wire Walk between the Twin Towers. London: Faber and Faber, 2003. Robinson, Alan. Narrating the Past: Historiography, Memory and the Contemporary Novel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Rosenberg, Emily. A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Roth, Philip. The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography. 1988. New  York: Penguin Books, 1989. ———. “The Story Behind The Plot Against America.” New York Times. New York Times, 19 Sept. 2004a. Web. 8 Jan. 2020. . ———. The Plot Against America. Boston: Houghton, 2004b. Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009. Ruff, Matt. The Mirage. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. London: Jonathan Cape, 2005. Said, Edward W. “The Clash of Ignorance.” Nation. 4 Oct. 2001. Web. 25 Mar. 2020. . Savvas, Theophilus, and Christopher K.  Coffman. “American Fiction after Postmodernism.” Textual Practice 33.2 (2019): 195–212. Sawires-Masseli, Marie-Christin. Arab American Novels Post-9/11: Classical Storytelling Motifs Against Outsidership. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2018. Sheppard, Alfred T. The Art and Practice of Historical Fiction. London: H. Toulmin, 1930.



Tidhar, Lavie. Osama. Hornsea: PS Publishing, 2011. Kindle ebook file. Tyrrell, Ian. “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History.” The American Historical Review 96.4 (1991): 1031–1055. Versluys, Kristiaan. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. New  York: Columbia UP, 2009. Waldman, Amy. The Submission. New York: Farrar, 2011. Zemeckis, Robert, dir. The Walk. TriStar Pictures, 2015. Film.


“The Second Coming”: The Resurgence of the Historical Novel and American Alternate History

Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. —William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

The quote, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” is famously attributed to Albert Einstein although its original source is not traceable. In Chinese, the word “crisis,” wei-ji, is composed of two characters, one of which represents danger (wei), and the other, opportunity (ji). The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have created both a crisis and an opportunity for novelists. In ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction (2013), I observed a crisis that fiction writers seemed to be facing in the wake of 9/11, as many of them complained about the pettiness of writing and reading fiction in a violent and turbulent world (13). On August 7, 2005, Rachel Donadio, editor of the New York Times Book Review, published two essays. One of them was a profile essay about V. S. Naipaul, who declared that “[t]he novel’s time was over” (qtd. in Donadio 2005a). Lamenting the inadequacy of fiction to capture the complexity of the world after 9/11, Naipaul said, “If you write a novel alone you sit and you weave a little narrative. And it’s O.K., but it’s of no account” (qtd. in Donadio 2005a). In the other essay, entitled “Truth Is Stronger than Fiction,” Donadio (2005b) asserts that even if, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, “the novel isn’t dead[,] it just isn’t as central to the culture as it once was.” Part of Donadio’s evidence was derived from the decisions of © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




several literary magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and the Paris Review, either to scale down or to stop publishing fiction regularly, except for in special issues. In the twenty-first century, the decline of fiction is conceivably a crisis, but it also creates an opportunity to re-­ examine the line between fact and fiction, a longstanding issue that has been debated time and again throughout history, and to quest for a novelistic genre that may be particularly well suited to informing the reader about the world rather than merely providing an escape from it. From the viewpoint of Donadio and the other magazine editors she quoted, non-­ fiction tells truth whereas fiction does not, but she still queries, “Is fiction no longer essential?” Donadio has raised a crucial question regarding the functions that fiction serves in today’s world. Other questions that are equally important are, does fiction tell no truth? Is truth stronger than fiction by all means? What is truth? While Donadio focuses on the general decline of fiction in the post-9/11 era, several other critics point out the dominance of historical fiction and its subgenre, alternate history fiction, in the market.1 Even as many novelists, like Naipaul, were suggesting a turn from the fictional to the non-­ fictional mode like journalism and essays, many others turned to historical fiction (Lewis 2016, 48). In “Arbitrary Ruptures,” Birte Otten (2010) notes that, over the past two decades, the alternate history or what-if novels “have entered the mainstream literary market” and “gained popularity among non-science fiction writers.” To account for the proliferation of historical fiction and alternate history fiction, it is essential to look into not only post-9/11 conditions, especially the political climate, as the subsequent chapters will do, but also the literary history of the genre. It is because neither historical fiction nor alternate history fiction is “novel,” but its resurgence since the mid-1980s has brought about remarkable changes to the genre, rendering it a “novelistic” form that is of significant account and is worthy of serious study in the post-9/11 world. This chapter therefore provides an overview of the history boom in contemporary fiction and sketches its historical background, in order to bring out the relations of this boom with 9/11 and its concomitant apocalyptic imagery. Another prime objective of this chapter is to enrich genre studies of historical fiction and alternate history fiction with memory studies, which, I argue, offer perceptive insights into the effect of genre on the construction of memory and the role that the emergent present plays in both the writer’s and the reader’s remembering and making sense of the past through literary representations.



The Past and the Present of the Historical Novel The popularity of the historical novel since the mid-1980s has been well noted by literary critics. Fredric Jameson’s book, The Antinomies of Realism (2013), is frequently cited as a seminal book on the resurgence of the historical novel, but Jameson himself acknowledges Perry Anderson’s 2011 article as a “landmark survey of the genre” (259). Anderson’s article, “From Progress to Catastrophe,” was published in the London Review of Books. In the article, Anderson (2011) asserts that “the historical novel has become, at the upper ranges of fiction, more widespread than it was even at the height of its classical period in the early 19th century.” Anderson, however, is not the first critic to note the resurrection of the historical novel. In an earlier book, Consuming History, Jerome de Groot (2009) has attended to British writers’ fascination with invented pasts. De Groot remarks on literary novelists’ rewriting of history in a variety of engaging ways, claiming that “[i]t is now commonplace for serious fiction writers to produce historical work, where it was not 20 years ago” (218). The genre of the historical novel has revived in Britain, as these critics have noticed, and in the U.S., too, thriving at an unprecedented level. James English is intrigued by the fast pace at which the literary move toward revitalizing the historical novel has been widely welcomed. His research discovers that novels “accelerated their abandonment of the present from the late 1970s on. By the mid-1980s half of them were set in the past or the future, and by the late 1990s contemporary settings had clearly become—in the precincts of high critical esteem—a minority taste” (2016, 408). English’s discovery is aligned with Samuel Cohen’s in After the End of History. Cohen (2009) states that “the historical turn evident across American culture in the 1990s took particular shape in an explosion of historical novels, many by major figures in American fiction” (3). Theophilus Savvas and Christopher K. Coffman’s most recent research confirms that American fiction of the long 1990s “continued to display a concern with the historical past” (2019, 201). In particular, “these grapplings with the past are intensified” in the wake of 9/11 (201). To put it simply, even if the engagement of literary writers with the past has intensified after 2001, there is little doubt that the historical novel has been flourishing since the 1980s and 1990s. Various reasons have been suggested to account for the resurrection of the historical novel. Some critics attribute it in part to the influence of literary awards, especially those major ones that command great media



coverage and guarantee an increase in sales for the winning novels. Among the literary awards, the Booker Prize and National Book Awards seem to be better known than others, thereby playing a prominent role in shaping literary production and the general public’s reception. Sharon Norris (2006) points out that winners of the Booker Prize receive more attention than other published works because “it remains, other than the Nobel Prize for Literature, possibly the only literary award that the general public in Britain is likely to have heard of” (140). While Norris centers on the Booker winners, English examines the structure of the Booker and the shortlisted fiction to account for the historical turn. English (2016) regards Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as “the very epitome of the prizewinning novel in our time” (414), for it has inspired and encouraged several other writers to turn to writing historical novels after it was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981. The novel went on to be proclaimed the “Best of the Bookers” in 1990 and honorably received the “Booker of Bookers” in 2005. One can imagine voices doubting that one single novel like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children could effectuate a boom in the production and the sales of historical novels. Yet, from a structural perspective, English argues that “[j]ust as the Booker becomes the model for numerous so-­ called baby bookers in the 1980s and early 1990s, Rushdie’s novel becomes the model for countless prize-contending works of Anglophone magic-­ historical realism . . .” (414). Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Booker Prize also became a model for the National Book Awards in the U.S. It is found that Barbara Prete, who administered the National Book Awards from 1982 to 1990, undertook “a conscious makeover of the prize on the model of the Booker” (English 2016, 415) and integrated the Booker’s preference for historical novels into the National Book Awards as well. The result of that makeover can be seen, from the years 1983–1988, in winners in which “present-day setting abruptly dropp[ed] to minority status,” and there was a “further decline a decade later” (English 2016, 415). It was an arresting surge in the production of historical fiction in comparison with the short lists in 1978–83 that were “still running at 73 percent contemporary” (English 2016, 415). Such an increase in the number of historical novels leads English to associate literary production to literary awards and draws attention to the power of the Booker Prize and the National Book Awards in both engendering changes in the literary field and boosting the sales of historical fiction. The boom in historical novels is attributed by several other critics to the advent of postmodernism, or, quite paradoxically, to the discontent with



it. In Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Jameson (1991) sees the postmodern as “an attempt to think the present historically in an age that has forgotten how to think historically” (ix). For Jameson, the postmodern subject “has lost its capacity to organize its past and future into coherent experience” (25). Under the circumstances, the historical novel “can only ‘represent’ our ideas and stereotypes about that past” without truly “set[ting] out to represent the historical past” (25). There is indeed a postmodern turn in historical writing under the influence of radical literary and historiographical theories of the 1960s and 1970s. The disavowal of reality that Jameson notices in postmodern historical writing does not, however, equate to a deficiency of historical sensibility. In contrast, some argue that postmodern historical fiction is concerned with both “the historical past” and “a metafictive reflexivity” (Savvas and Coffman 2019, 201). In A Poetics of Postmodernism, for example, Linda Hutcheon (1988) contends that many examples of “historiographic metafiction” fostered by postmodernism are “both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages” (5). From a metafictional perspective, the postmodern fiction rigorously engages with the past to challenge the notion of a single historical truth and reveal the narrativity of historical writing. Having continued to display a concern with history and to challenge authoritative accounts of the past, the post-9/11 historical novels under discussion in this book diverge from both the classical and postmodern forms of historical fiction while sharing some commonalities. In comparison with the classical historical fiction, the post-9/11 historical novels illustrate what Anderson (2011) calls “a second coming with difference.” The differences are especially pronounced in terms of characterization and subject matters. One of the defining characteristics of the classical historical novel, as Georg Lukács (1983) maintains in The Historical Novel, are the “historical-social types” of middling characters, namely “typical characters nationally” (35, 36), as exemplified by Sir Walter Scott’s work. Through the conflicts that “divide societies and the individuals within them,” the classical historical novel tends to affirm “human progress” (Anderson 2011). In this sense, the classical historical novel can be viewed as adaptation from the “national tale” or “national chronicle” (Trumpener 1997, 130–31; Fleishman 1971, 17). In contrast to the classical historical novel’s concern with “the emergence of nation” and “progress as emancipation,” many cases of post-9/11 historical fiction cast doubt upon national mythologies and present a thematic shift from “progress” to



“catastrophe,” as the title of Anderson’s article has indicated. When Anderson uses the phrase “a second coming,” she means “revival,” but it rings a bell when the reader remembers William Butler Yeats’s 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” part of which I cited as the epigraph at the beginning of this chapter. The nightmarish scene that Yeats describes in his poem, as seen in lines three and four (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”), suggests that the second coming would not be the holy rebirth of Jesus Christ but a “rough monster” that “[s]louches towards Bethlehem to be born” (lines 21–22). Just as Yeats’s poem illustrates the crisis that post-WWI Europe was facing, the second coming of the historical novel reveals preoccupations with “the ravages of empire” and “impending or consummated catastrophe” (Anderson 2011). Anderson thus identifies the “persistent backdrops” to many of the historical novels today as follows: “military tyranny; race murder; omnipresent surveillance; technological war; and programmed genocide” as all being “at the antipodes of its classical forms.” Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, for example, are set against the backdrop of WWII and the Vietnam War respectively, tackling such issues as Japanese American internment, war casualties, returning veterans’ post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and African American prostitution. Like the classical historical fiction, post-9/11 historical fiction claims to be faithful to historical reality and aims at telling truth. However, as discussed previously, the thematic shift in post-9/11 historical fiction from progress to catastrophe manifests its focus on radically contentious histories rather than national histories that concern the classical historical fiction. To varying degrees, the post-9/11 historical novels that form the center of the present study have evolved from “post-postmodern” historical fiction (Savvas and Coffman 2019, 202) and “truth-telling” historical fiction that “came to fruition in the 1990s” (Gauthier 2011, 19). In “American Fiction after Postmodernism,” Savvas and Coffman coin the term “post-postmodern” to describe the type of historical fiction that, from the 1990s onwards, “increasingly exhibited characteristics incompatible with [Hutcheon’s] definition of historiographic metafiction, while it also avoided regressing to the historical vacuity Jameson asserted” (201). Like postmodern historical novels, post-postmodern historical novels “have displayed an ongoing interest in—and increasingly achieved a renewal of—historical awareness” (202). There was, however, a growing “dissatisfaction with the ironic, postmodern rejection of the possibility of



the authentic,” pushing post-postmodern writers to augment “the scope of the contemporary inclination to the recovery of the real” (202). In Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American History, Marni Gauthier’s (2011) argument about contemporary “truth-telling” historical fiction accords with Savvas and Coffman’s about “post-postmodern” historical fiction. Contemporary “truth-telling” historical fiction has a marked distinction from postmodern historical fiction that identifies “a crisis in historicity” while eliding “the question of truth” (Gauthier 2011, 18). Post-9/11 historical fiction adds to a new corpus of contemporary historical fiction that reconstructs the past in order to find a path to the truth of contentious histories without adhering to a national tale. The questions that demand further attention and discussion are: After the heyday of postmodernism, how can the past be re-visited? Can fiction tell truth? How true is truth? What kind of truth is it? And what is the relationship between historical truth and the present? In addressing these questions in the present study, I take cues from Gauthier, Savvas and Coffman, and others to turn contemporary genre studies of historical fiction away from cognitive literary studies that adopt mimetic approaches. The Greek word, mimesis, literally means “imitation.” Stressing the term’s relation to realism, Erich Auerbach ([1946] 1991) provides the following definition in his seminal book, Mimesis, as “the interpretation of reality through literary representation or ‘imitation’” (554). Meyer Howard Abrams’s (1971) influential study, The Mirror and the Lamp, likewise specifies a “mirror” view of realistic literary representation (8–14), in contrast to the “lamp” view favored by Romanticist writers (30–46). That is, mimesis, like a mirror, reflects the world. Literary critics who adopt a mimetic approach “feel compelled to compare historical fictions with ‘what actually happened’ and praise the fiction writers for being ‘truthful’ to the past or shame them for ‘distorting’ the past” (Doležel 2010, 86–87). Such a mimetic approach based on historical fiction’s referentiality to the actual world, however, neglects the politics of truth, as well as the evolving and dynamic relationship of the writer and the reader with the past that is represented and revisited. All these, I argue, need to be taken into account in order to fully comprehend the complexity of post-9/11 historical fiction and its reception by contemporary readers. Gauthier’s study sheds light on the role that politics plays in shaping and determining what counts as truth. Theoretically grounded in Michel Foucault’s “politics of truth,” Gauthier’s book validates the necessity of pursuing truth and acknowledges literary efforts to attest and confront



racist, class, and gender oppression. Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American History is claimed to be the first to have recognized “a particular body of American historical fiction” in the context of “a broader current of official truth seeking” (Gauthier 2011, 23). It examines the development of truth-telling historical novels in relation to the political climate in which the novels are produced and received. Specifically, the 1990s is “the decade of truth telling and redress” both in the U.S. and abroad (4), as evidenced by the launching of truth commissions on several continents. These commissions reflect a “dramatic shift in the global political and cultural environments” subsequent to “the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rapid end of the Cold War, and the upheaval of many repressive regimes in Latin America, Africa, and Asia” (4). In the late twentieth-­ century political context, Gauthier observes, “a new genre of historical novel” has arisen to carry out “a vital cultural work: telling the truth in an age of amnesia and redress” (3–4). Bypassing poststructuralist critiques of truth that risk relativism or may rapidly lead to annihilation, Gauthier weighs the involvement of politics and power in constructing truth while bringing to the fore the cultural functions that the historical novel serves in providing “literary testimony” (22) beyond the limited usage of testimony in the legal context. A historical novel, after all, is not a historical record although it may be based in part on facts. If it is the rediscovery of truth that matters, what kind of truth is pursued? And what lies in the contemporary historical novel that renders it an especially appealing and effective genre for truth-­ telling cultural work? Gauthier draws attention to the hidden truth of contentious histories. The truth that contemporary historical novels tell are “counterhistories to received versions of the American past” (19). Fiction writers tell truth by means of “their bold use of a neglected or alternate historical archive and their ensuing inscriptions of countermemories to juxtapose against and alongside those narratives that comprise our recognizable national mythologies” (21). However, if it is partly a result of the novelist’s “bold use of a neglected historical archive” (21), as Gauthier maintains, how possible is it to find truth through writing fiction? Without giving a straightforward answer to this question, Gauthier’s notion of the politics of truth instead shifts critical attention from the genre of the historical novel itself to the situated positionality of the author writing at the margin. She gives the examples of minority authors such as Toni Morrison to illustrate how a writer’s marginal position enables him or her to revise American history and to provide counternarratives. Philip



Roth, Julie Otsuka, Perry Miyake, and Cynthia Kadohata are also ethnic minority writers whose novels, as discussed in Chaps. 3 and 4, return to the 1940s to testify to Japanese American internment and anti-Semitism, both of which have not been adequately recorded in American official history of WWII. Like Gauthier, Savvas and Coffman (2019) do not deny historical truth, but they do not zoom in on the writer’s marginality or acquisition of formerly unknown and neglected historical materials. Instead, they propose recovering “the real” through inquiring into the “present reality” of both the writer and the literary form of the historical novel (202). They observe “a connection between the work of the author in the present and the historical material he or she treats,” namely “between his present experience and the past preserved in the archive of texts that shape his own” (202). For example, some writers blend their personal memories, biographical details of their family, or current research into the particular period of history that their novels cover. Ample and notable evidence has been found in contemporary historical novels, such as Dave Eggers’s What is the What (2006) and Michael Chabon’s Moonglow (2016). In terms of the present reality of the historical novel, the blend of biography and fiction challenges genre boundaries, as Chap. 3 further illuminates reading Roth’s The Plot Against America in relation to his autobiography, The Facts. Neo-­ internment narratives that Chap. 4 deals with combine surviving internees’ memoirs, the writers’ postmemories, historical archives, and fiction to form counternarratives. Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, which I discuss in Chap. 5, also serves to illustrate hybrid historical fiction in which graphic materials such as Philippe Petit’s photo are placed alongside the text. The heading, “The Past and the Present of the Historical Novel,” sums up two key points that I aim to elucidate in this section. The first is the crucial importance of having a genre study of the literary history of historical fiction, especially in light of its resurgence over the past few decades. After the end of the Cold War, when Francis Fukuyama (1992) claimed the end of History, the second coming of historical fiction has manifested characteristics not commonly seen in its classical form. These new, distinct characteristics include telling truth as a literary testimony, blending the author’s auto/biographical elements into the fiction, a catastrophic backdrop, and taking a transnational and multicultural perspective. These changes can be argued to have paved the way for historical novels post 9/11. In terms of the literary history of the historical novel, 9/11 is not a history-making



event spawning a new corpus of contemporary historical fiction. Rather, the novels that are the focus of the present study reflect continuity, as they share, to varying degrees, the aforementioned characteristics that many scholars identified in the historical novels of the 1990s. Such a renewed form of historical fiction turns the crisis that many novelists appear to be facing after 9/11 into an opportunity to re-engage readers. Also, as discussed in Chap. 1, many American studies scholars, such as Amy Kaplan and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, are alarmed at how the post-9/11 political climate in the U.S. has become increasingly patriotic, imperialist, and racially intolerant. As if in response to these scholars’ call for a historical turn to reclaim the multicultural roots of the U.S., post-9/11 historical novels have paid growing attention to the lives of ethnic minority groups in different historical periods. Historical fiction sells nowadays not simply because it is “something that is—literally at times—consumed, commodified” (8), as De Groot (2009) suggests, or because it is apt to win literary awards, as English (2016) contends. On top of these, historical fiction has come to dominate the literary market in the post-9/11 era because it provides a critical lens through which the fiction writer and reader look at American history, their present reality and identity anew. The second point indicated by this section’s heading is the importance of rethinking temporality in post-9/11 historical fiction’s making of history. This is a point somewhat little examined in existing research on post-9/11 historical fiction. In Narrating the Past, Alan Robinson’s (2011) “action-oriented” (xi) approach is particularly helpful to my study of contemporary historical fiction wherein not only fact and fiction but the pre- and post-9/11 worlds seem to converge at the interpretative and narrative levels. Robinson considers both “the author’s presumed intentionality” and “the audience’s generic expectations” when he elaborates on the “‘cognitive asymmetry’ between present inquiry and past experience” (29, x). His study of the dynamic truth of historical fiction that continuously changes and develops offers fascinating insights into the agency of the writer and the reader, as well as “the ontological convergence of past and present in the anachronistic narrative worlds of historical fiction” (xi). Unlike Charles Lewis (2016), who centers his attentions on the uncanny “co-incidence” (39) between the historical novel’s narrative of the past and the contemporary reader’s present experience, Robinson (2011) takes into account “the interplay between past present and past future and present past” (xiii). He uses the term “emplotment,” first coined by poststructuralist critic Hayden White, to clarify how the past present is constructed



through the author’s interpretation of the past. In Metahistory, White (1980) defines “emplotment” as “the kind of story that had been told” (17), such as romance, tragedy, comedy, and satire, to illustrate how historians use pre-existing narrative techniques to construct and plot history in multiple yet somehow limited ways. Instead of noting the similarities between history and story as White has done, Robinson (2011) stresses how, “with the aid but also the limitations of hindsight, the author connects selected states, events and actions from the past into an emplotment, which offers an explanation of how a significant transformation came about” (x). For Robinson, the emplotment “is shaped by the author’s norms and values and his or her assumptions about the casual factors which influence occurrences” (x). While White’s theory has been criticized by some scholars for equating history to fiction and denying objective truth about the past, Robinson’s concept of the “emplotment,” I argue, can shed light on Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s “historical truthfulness,” which denotes “an open-ended and evolving relationship with past events and people” (2005, 27). It should be clarified that even though Robinson, Gauthier, and Savvas and Coffman do not question the use of the term “historical truth” as Morris-Suzuki does, those critics assuredly do not mean to suggest “a single authoritative ‘historical truth’” (Morris-Suzuki 2005, 27) when they use the term. Indebted to Robinson, the subsequent chapters examine how novelists construct “the present past, that is, a mental representation of what, from [their] present perspective, is now taken to have been the nature of the past” (2011, x). Through emplotment, historical fiction writers exhume and renew the past in the present. For Robinson, the “past present” and the “past future” are two kinds of narrative temporality discernable in the historical worlds embedded within the writer’s encompassing emplotment. In the past present of “the narrative world that represents past actuality,” historical characters or agents are “subject to various constraints” and “ignorant of the eventual outcome,” although “their anticipatory planning is directed towards the past future” (Robinson 2011, x). Immersed in the narrative world, readers are “led to experience vicariously the competing possibilities of how things might turn out, as they enter empathetically into the characters’ projections of the virtual future they conceive and seek to realise” (x). However, the reader’s historical interpretation relies not merely on the plot of the narrative constituted by the historical characters’ actions but also on the reader’s “experiential repertoires stored in the memory as dynamic ‘scripts’” (13). Precisely because “historical fiction blurs indistinguishably



what is imported from known historical data and what is invented” (29), generic expectations may lead readers to compare what they remember about the past with that which is described in the novel. As I will elaborate in more detail later, in place of mimesis, constructionist and reader-­ response theories that are either too absolutist or too reductive, memory studies nowadays can complement genre studies of historical fiction inasmuch as memory provides a lens through which both the writer and the reader look back to the past, and yet the lens can be redirected by individual and collective experiences and augmented by the addition of the filter of present interest.

The Unrealized Past of Alternate History and the Acknowledged Present In this book, I read alternate history novels along with other historical novels. I do so because, even if alternate history novels are counterfactual to some extent, they expose deep truths about the dark history they are set in and reveal relations with the political and social conditions of both the writer’s and the reader’s present world. In literary criticism and history studies, various terms have been used nearly interchangeably with “alternate history,” such as counterfactual, alternative history, parahistory, allohistory, and uchronia. I prefer the term “alternate history” as it suggests complex and entangled relations to history. As a noun, “alternate” history denotes an alternative to and stand-in of history. As an adjective meaning “interspersed” or “occurring in turn repeatedly,” it advances the idea that history, not necessarily chronologically linear, could be repetitive and built upon layers of actual and unrealized pasts. However, just as it has been called by several different names, how to classify alternate history fiction generically and whether or not it deserves serious study has long been debated. Some scholars view the alternate history novel as a subgenre of science fiction. In “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?,’” Gavriel Rosenfeld (2002) attributes the changing status of alternate history fiction in the 1960s to the popularity of science fiction, asserting that “the legitimation of science fiction as a widely accepted genre of creative expression helped boost the fortunes of its lesser-known allohistorical offshoot” (92). In her book-length study, The Alternate History, Karen Hellekson (2001) is equally unambiguous: “the alternate history is a subgenre of the genre of science fiction, which is itself a subgenre of fantastic



(that is, not realistic) literature” (3). She goes on to divide alternate history fiction into three major divisions: the nexus story, true alternate history, and parallel worlds story (5). The nexus story, which is one of the primary foci of my study, is the alternate history novel that originates from a “nexus event,” namely “a crucial point in history, such as a battle or assassination, in which something different happens that changes the outcome” (5). True alternate history stories are set “years after a change in a nexus event, which has resulted in a radically changed world” (7). Parallel worlds stories depict “a number of alternate histories that exist simultaneously” (8). In Hellekson’s opinion, these three types of alternate history fiction should be considered within the subgenre of science fiction because, like science fiction, they ask, “What if the world were somehow different?” and use “history as the moment of . . . ‘estrangement’” (3). Furthermore, Hellekson contrasts alternate history fiction with historical fiction, maintaining that the former “must change the historical event,” whereas the latter “seek[s] to uphold the events of history as they occurred—to tell the truth” (28). It is arguable, however, that alternate history fiction tells no truth; as I have discussed previously, what truth historical novels tell is debatable and should not be oversimplified as an equivalence to historical actuality. Finding the aforementioned classification and conceptualization unsatisfactory, several other scholars and fiction writers lay emphasis on the probability and plausibility of the alternate history. Speaking of counterfactual speculation, Catherine Gallagher (2010) specifies that it is “based on the assumption that the reader knows the premise to be false, and it is not trying to convince you otherwise” (12). Historical accuracy is important, but it may not be the main or only concern of alternate history fiction, which Gallagher (2010) suggests, “wants you to consider the probable, plausible, or possible consequences of an admittedly false conditional” (12). Robert Conroy’s novel, 1862, provides evidence to substantiate Gallagher’s claim. In his introduction to 1862, Conroy (2006) thus explains the premise of his novel: “the possibility of England entering the war on the side of the Confederacy was very real” (v). Similarly, in a New York Times article, “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” Roth (2004) wants his readers to know that even if Charles Lindbergh’s winning the presidential election is the nexus event that changes the course of history, his fictionalized Lindbergh is not much different from the historical one. Not only fiction writers but also non-fiction editors consider the critical importance of plausibility in the formulation of counterfactual



questions. In his introduction to Virtual History, editor Niall Ferguson (2010) explicates how contributors to the collection of essays had narrowed the scope of alternate history novels and attempt to “avoid the gambler’s fallacy” of believing in “chance” (85). In his words, “by replacing the enigma of ‘chance’ with the calculation of probabilities[,] we solve the dilemma of choosing between a single deterministic past and an unmanageably infinite number of possible pasts” (85). If we take into account how writers have carefully read historical documents and calculated the plausibility and probability of their counterfactual premises, the validity of historian Edward Hallett Carr’s well-known criticism of the alternate history as an “idle parlor game” ([1961] 2001, 91) is cast into serious doubt. Despite literary critics’ disagreement about whether alternate history fiction should be taken seriously, it has been commonly accepted that alternate history fiction became popular in the 1960s and rose from a marginal genre to literary mainstream in the 1990s. In her study, Gallagher (2010) finds that regarding the numbers of such novels, “prior to 1960, we can identify perhaps twenty throughout the extent of western literature (and that is stretching it)” (13). Since 1960, the numbers have increased to nearly three hundred published in English alone, and “more than half of those appearing since 1990” (Gallagher 2010, 13). In The World Hitler Never Made, Rosenfeld (2005) further points out that, in the late 1990s, alternate history was recognized by the mass media “as a contemporary phenomenon” (5). Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (2009), in “What Almost Was,” suggests considering 1995 “the birth year of the alternate history novel as a genre” (63) because the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History was established to honor the best alternate history stories and novels of the year. The Sidewise Awards, as Schneider-Mayerson acknowledges, “became a mechanism to draw and police the borders of the genre” (64). With the boom of alternate history fiction in the 1990s, the number of scholarly books studying it has noticeably increased. While in the 1990s most of the studies were dissertations, such as Edgar V.  McKnight’s “Alternative History: The Development of a Literary Genre” (1994) and William Joseph Collins’s “Paths Not Taken” (1990), more recent publications are weighty scholarly works like Hellekson’s The Alternate History (2001), Rosenfeld’s The World Hitler Never Made (2005), Ferguson’ Virtual History (2010), and Gallagher’s Telling It like It Wasn’t (2018).2 I have drawn heavily on all of these, as well as far too many journal articles for me to list in full here. The proliferation of fictional and scholarly



publications like these removes any doubt that alternate history fiction has become a genre worthy of serious study. It must be noted that alternate history fiction flourished as a literary genre in the 1990s, along with the second coming of historical fiction. If we look at alternate history fiction in context, with a focus on its themes and content, its recent incarnations seem almost unrelated to its previous science-fiction-related examples, suggesting the genre might now be more accurately, and fruitfully, categorized as fitting under the broader umbrella of historical fiction. Like the second coming of historical fiction, the rise of alternate history fiction to prominence can be seen as “the byproduct of broader political cultural trends” (Rosenfeld 2005, 6). The widespread cultural movement of postmodernism seems to have a part to play, quite paradoxically, in promoting both historical fiction and alternate history fiction. Rosenfeld (2005) contends that “Postmodernism’s playfully ironic relationship to history . . . has found expression in alternate history’s playful rearranging of the narratives of real history” (7). In addition to the “ironic relationship to history” that Rosenfeld has underscored, SchneiderMayerson (2009) notices other prominent features of postmodernism, such as “skepticism of traditional historical narratives, especially grand narratives” and “privileging of alternative voices” (66), in making a substantial contribution to the growth of alternate history fiction. Let us not forget that a similar claim has been made for postmodernism’s influence on historiographic metafiction, too. Intriguingly, since the 1990s, alternate history fiction has stylistically become increasingly more realistic, showing a closer connection with historical fiction than science fiction. Gallagher (2010) descries that, “as they have become more mainstream, alternate-history novels have stuck close to the narrative forms of the nineteenth century instead of experimenting with the more demanding multinexus organization” (22–23). Even if contingency is inherent in alternate history, probability has been held, as previously discussed, as the guiding principle over the past two decades. Many examples of alternate history fiction considered here appear to show the “post-postmodern” tendency that Savvas and Coffman have observed in a new corpus of contemporary historical fiction, as they also rediscover the real and engage genuinely with history. Postmodernism may have boosted the growth of alternate history fiction, but counterfactual speculation about the unrealized past is not a playful game of wild imagination; rather, it is a fundamentally serious act of contemplation on the importance of historical events and human agency in making history.



Politically, the end of the Cold War has been widely connected to both the rise of alternate history fiction as a publicly recognized genre and to the resurgence of historical fiction. Just as Gauthier contextualizes the development of truth-telling historical novels within the political setting of the 1990s as a decade of redress, Gallagher (2010) relates “the alternate-­ history impulse in the Cold War and after” to “the desire to see the logic of justice triumph over the dynamics of historical determination” (17). Gallagher even goes a little further back than Gauthier, to the 1970s and 80s, labeling that period “the reparations decades in the US” (18). In those decades, the strong inclination toward historical justice shaped alternate history narratives. As Gallagher remarks, during those years, alternate history narratives “began to demonstrate the historical possibility that, for example, the U.S. might have adopted more equitable policies toward native populations, or that it might have continued the racially integrative initiatives of the Reconstruction period” (2010, 18). Inasmuch as they “provide evidence that alternatives to unjust actions and policies were practicable” (Gallagher 2010, 18), alternate history narratives could be utilized pragmatically in achieving political effects. Such a practical use of the alternate history may have subsequently facilitated “remarkable tolerance for quasi-realities” in the 1990s (Gallagher 2010, 22) and elevated the alternate history fiction to a respectable genre. As influential as the growing sense of historical justice is the impulse toward libertarianism in the post-Cold War era. According to Schneider-­ Mayerson (2009), since the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was “an ideological battle between communism and capitalism,” both of which were “deterministic,” its end “was more likely to produce antideterminist narratives than its initial phase” (69). Furthermore, in the post-Cold War political arena of libertarianism, alternate history fiction not only rewrites the past to redress wrongs, thereby serving a function similar to historical fiction’s, but it also reflects “a revived sense of triumphalism brought about by the end of the cold war and a renewed faith in the present” (Rosenfeld 2002, 98). Speaking of the resurgence of historical fiction, Cohen (2009) has also commented, as did Rosenfeld, on the optimism of the post-Cold War period: “The fact that so many began to reexamine the past after the end of the Cold War supports the notion that anxiety about the present had decreased” (8). These hopeful comments remind us, once again, of Fukuyama’s (1992) designation of the end of the Cold War as the end of history, namely the endpoint of ideological conflicts and evolution (Chap. 1). Having said that, even if both the development of



alternate history and historical novels could be contextualized by considering the triumphant political arena of the 1990s in which they were most popularly produced and received, revisiting or reimagining catastrophic and controversial historical events may not always reflect complacency with the writing present. Many of the alternate history novels published after 9/11 break with post-Cold War triumphalism. Aside from suggesting different ways of looking at the past, the nightmare scenarios depicted in alternative historical worlds evoke, to some extent, the reader’s anxiety about the present and future. For example, the appalling alternative past in Roth’s The Plot Against America, premised on pro-Nazi Lindbergh’s winning the presidency, reveals both the Jewish protagonists’ and contemporary readers’ perpetual fear of white supremacy and totalitarian governments. Issuing a clear warning against Islamphobia to its readers, Waldman’s The Submission is based on the premise that a Muslim architect’s anonymous submission wins the September 11 memorial design competition. The irony of the jury’s unintentionally choosing a Muslim to commemorate 9/11 immediately sparks media hype, mass paranoia, and a series of violent protests. Matt Ruff’s The Mirage (2012), nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, reverses the roles that the U.S. and the Arab world have played in global geopolitics since the late nineteenth century. It is set in an alternative world where Arabia, the United Arab States, has been the world’s superpower and had proudly heralded itself as a promised land until the fatal date of November 9, 2001, when Christian extremists from the U.S. crash hijacked airliners into Baghdad’s Twin Towers, triggering a War on Terror. Depicting nightmare scenarios in alternative worlds, these novels can be interpreted as critical commentary on the problems of racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and political manipulation of identities in today’s globalized world. If read in this way, they may undermine Rosenfeld’s contention that, in alternate histories, “[n]ightmare scenarios . . . tend to be conservative, for by viewing the past in negative terms, they ratify the present and thereby reject the need for change” (2002, 93). Rosenfeld’s other points of argument are, however, quite insightful. Instead of merely studying the representation of the past in works of alternate history or drawing an analogy between the unrealized past and the emergent present, he suggests attending to the role that emotions like fear and hope play in the author’s counterfactual speculation and to the reader’s reception of a given narrative, so as to have a deeper understanding of how “alternate histories can dramatically illuminate the workings of



memory” (2002, 94). An increasing number of alternate history novels published after 9/11 attest to a collective memory of the ethnic conflicts and international wars that the U.S. has been confronted with since the mid-twentieth century while evincing the dread specter of such nightmares looming over the country.

History, Fiction, and Memory To probe deeply into how historical fiction and alternate history fiction published after 9/11 perform the cultural work of memory and rewrite American history, I consider not only genre development and generic expectations but also the dynamics of memory in influencing people’s interpretation and perception of the past that a literary text breaks up and rewrites. As discussed previously, in terms of genre studies, critics such as Hellekson distinguish historical fiction from alternate history fiction according to fixed genre conventions. Noticing changes within the genre, other critics like Anderson, Gauthier, and Gallagher highlight how historical fiction and alternate history fiction have respectively yet coincidentally evolved since the 1980s and 1990s into political literary practices. These critics shift their critical attention from the text to context by treating historical fiction and alternate history fiction as parts of a larger system of cultural and political change and development. Over the past few decades of justice, redress, and reparations, a noteworthy number of contemporary historical novels and alternate history novels, written in a conspicuously realistic style, have reconstructed the past using minority characters as the organizational center of their narratives. These works have also featured the international wars that the U.S. has been involved in, and foregrounded the intricacies of historical truth. Focusing on the transnational, multicultural, and contentious histories of the U.S., these literary works provide alternatives to official history. In contemporary genre criticism, the interpretation and meaning of a text trumps classification and development. To explore how the past is reconstructed in historical fiction and alternate history fiction and how it is perceived by the reader, genre critics traditionally compare and contrast fiction with historical reality and, quite reasonably, formally analyze the setting, focalization, points of divergence, characterization, signs, symbols, and so on. There may be, for example, signs in a historical narrative, such as America First, internment camps, and enemy aliens that evoke the reader’s memories of WWII, or fictionalized characters like Charles



Lindbergh and Philippe Petit that cross the border between real life and fiction. Two other traditional approaches adopted by genre critics, as Thomas Kent (1986) notes in Interpretation and Genre, are based on historical or psychological models. The former assumes that “different readers have different responses during different historical periods,” whereas the latter asserts that “no two readers read in the same way” (25). However, as Kent expostulates, neither of these approaches is completely satisfying because they fail to consider either the ontological contradictions inherent in a hybrid text that can be classified into different genres or the hermeneutic conformity shown in different readers’ similar interpretation of a given text (25–26). Indeed, these traditional approaches have limitations that interfere with their ability to thoroughly explain how a contemporary historical novel or alternate history novel like Otsuka’s and Roth’s can also be read as a fictional family memoir or autobiography. Such approaches are not designed to explain why a set of highly competent readers, like literary commentators, display a high degree of unanimity in interpreting certain texts metaphorically as post-9/11 allegories even though the novels are set either in an entirely pre-9/11 world or in an alternative world. I agree with Kent that a “holistic” approach should be adopted in order to take into full consideration both the work’s synchronic and diachronic dimensions, namely that a genre is both “a system of codifiable conventions” and “a continually changing cultural artifact” (1986, 15). In this book, I further supplement current genre criticism with a critical dimension of memory. Both the relationship of a historical narrative with the past it recounts or imagines, and its relationship with the writer and the reader, fundamentally pivot on and reflect the workings of various intertwined memories. At the same time, memory study can also greatly benefit from genre criticism inasmuch as the resurgence of historical fiction and the prominence of alternate history fiction signify cultural trends that tell collective memories of particular historical events. After all, the historical novel or alternate history novel is not like any ordinary fiction that a writer can fabricate based on free imagination. It has to be, at least partly, a plausible reconstruction of the past. To understand how the past is reconstructed, it is essential to know that the past is, paradoxically, both irrevocable and revocable. In The Philosophy of the Present, George Herbert Mead (2002) explains that the past has never lost its “character of irrevocability” even if evidence is discovered and added to correct or cast into doubt any accepted account of the past (37). From Mead’s perspective, what Gauthier and other critics have argued about the



politics of truth testifies the “conception of an ‘in-itself’ irrevocable past” that is “absolutely correct” (41). It is because, “if we are making corrections there must seemingly be some account that is correct, and even if we contemplate an indefinite future of research science which will be engaged in the understanding we never escape from this implication” (40). In other words, despite “‘what it was’ that changes,” it is generally agreed that what has happened has happened in the given past (37). However, even if a “finality” or “irrevocability” is attached to the past event (37), the past is not entirely independent from the present given its cognitive structure. Mead asserts that the past is in the present because “its presence is exhibited in memory and in the historical apparatus which extends memory” (48). Memory studies, as Mead suggests, shed light on the productive relationship between the past and the present in an ongoing process. Indeed, memory is concerned as much with the present as it is with the past. While it seems almost self-evident that memory, as an act of bringing back the past, must happen in the present, trauma studies, through examining the impact of a traumatic past haunting an individual or a group’s present life and identity, reveal that the past may never be gone. To some extent, the contemporary historical novels and alternate history novels under discussion in this book all grapple with the lingering traumatic impact of historical events, such as WWII, the Vietnam War, and 9/11, on American society. The facts about these events that the novelists depict may be derived from three broadly classifiable sources: (1) externalized, objectified or institutionalized communications like written texts, rituals, monuments, and museums; (2) social communities that the writer is part of, such as schools, families, ethnic and religious groups; and (3) personal lived experiences. When we explore how each of the novelists reconstructs or rewrites the past in a historical narrative, we must distinguish between cultural memory, communicative memory, and individual memory, which, despite their apparent surface distinctions, are essentially intertwined in the crafting of collective memory. Since collective memory has been understood and defined in many different ways, I should, first of all, clarify what I mean when I employ the term in the present study. French philosopher Maurice Halbwachs, in his 1925 book Les Cadres Sociaux de la Mémoire, first coined the term, although his two other books, The Collective Memory (1980) and On Collective Memory (1992) are better known through their English translations. Despite the fact that the concept of group memory can be traced to “the earliest texts in Western civilization, in Archaic Greek culture”



(Russell 2006, 792), Halbwachs’s notion is of crucial importance, for it breaks down the binary opposition between collective memory and individual memory, which has been commonly attributed, respectively, to groups and to a single person. For Halbwachs, it is evidently positive that “everyone has a capacity for memory that is unlike that of anyone else, given the variety of temperaments and life circumstances” (1992, 53). When a writer or reader retrieves a memory while writing or reading a historical narrative about an event she or he has personally experienced, the writer’s story and the reader’s perception of the story would certainly not be the same as other writers’ and readers’ because everyone remembers differently. That being said, individual memory is not absolutely sealed off and isolated. Rather, as Halbwachs explains, it is “a part or an aspect of group memory, since each impression and each fact . . . leaves a lasting memory only to the extent that . . . it is connected with the thoughts that come to us from the social milieu” (53). For example, even if Roth claims to have drawn on his personal, lived experiences of 1940s anti-­ Semitism when writing The Plot Against America, his memory of childhood is not entirely or strictly personal since, as a child, he lived with parents, who, in the words of Halbwachs (1980), “were exposed to many influences” and “were, in part the people they were because they lived through that period, in a certain country under certain national and political circumstances” (56). Speaking of the intersection of personal memory and collective memory, Halbwachs focuses primarily on everyday interaction and social communication with different groups in determining one’s identity and remembrance. Halbwachs’s conceptualization of collective memory as socially constructed and communicated has its merits. However, if Halbwachs’s theoretical frame is misrecognized as the only way to perceive memory, collective memory may end up being yoked together with group identity, as if memories of a given event are owned only by a particular group and vice versa. When such a central assumption is made in discussing, for example, the collective memory of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism—the topic of Roth’s novel, non-Jewish readers would be excluded from understanding the pains and memories of the Jewish victims, their families, and friends. Likewise, people who have no ties, either direct or indirect, with African American slaves or their descendants, whose plight McCann deals with in Let the Great World Spin, would be barred from sharing their memories. McCann himself, an Irish American, would never have been able to engage genuinely in the legacy of African American slavery or the



Vietnam War. The possibility of the non-participants’ building an affective community with others who have lived experiences is at stake if collective memory is presumed to be based on an exclusive version of cultural or ethnic identity. To avoid the accompanying dangers of centralized assumptions of collective memory and to highlight the dynamics of memory, Michael Rothberg (2009), in Multidirectional Memory, proposes a model of multidirectional memory. Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory “acknowledges how remembrance both cuts across and binds together diverse spatial, temporal, and cultural sites” (11). His notion of shared memory echoes Jan Assmann’s redefinition of Halbwachs’s collective memory. To fill in the gap in Halbwachs’s theory, Assmann (2008) introduces the concept of “cultural memory” and lucidly distinguishes it from “communicative memory” while recognizing both as fundamental forms of collective memory. More precisely, while communicative memory is contained in everyday communication and is shared between an individual and his or her contemporaries, cultural memory “may be transferred from one situation to another and transmitted from one generation to another” through mnemonics “in the forms of narratives, songs, dances, rituals, masks, and symbols” (Assmann 2008, 111, 112). Cultural memory can be considered collective memory as well, for it can be shared across time and space while consolidating a people’s sense of belonging to an affective and affiliative community. Nonetheless, it must be stressed, that cultural memory “is concerned not with actual events but their cultural repercussions; not with actual memories but with memories as representations, and with representations of memories” (Saunders 2008, 330). Max Saunders reminds us that, when we draw on historical fiction and alternate history fiction to retrieve cultural memory, “what we are dealing with are, precisely, texts,” instead of “studying memory-texts for historical fact” (2008, 322). Literary texts, “rather than giving us direct access to unmediated memory,” illuminate “memory cultures,” in view of “the ways in which memory was produced, constructed, written, and circulated” (Saunders 2008, 322–23). While history, namely systematic and abstract knowledge, simply informs people of what has happened before, historical fiction and alternate history fiction can simultaneously store historical materials to raise the reader’s cognitive consciousness of the past and serve as carriers of cultural memory or multidirectional memory to arouse the reader’s affective responses, such as fear or imaginative empathy for the pain of others.



Despite some shared commonalities, however, Rothberg’s focus on the dialogical exchange of different events and histories distinguishes his notion of multidirectional memory from Assmann’s cultural memory or Halbwachs’s collective memory. Rothberg (2009) explains that his model aims at conceptualizing collective memory specifically “in multicultural and transnational contexts” (21), rendering it especially helpful to the present study. Multidirectional memory is the very antithesis of competitive memory, which is a distorted form of collective memory in its narrowly exclusionary sense. As Rothberg warns, within a conceptual framework that excludes “elements of alterity and forms of commonality with others,” collective memory may eventuate in “competitive memory,” namely “a zero-sum struggle over scarce resources” in public spheres where different groups’ histories of victimization are inclined to erase or compete with others (5, 3). In contrast, the conceptual framework of multidirectional memory challenges the uniqueness of any singular, exceptional event by attending to the “interaction of different historical memories” (3). Using the Holocaust as an example, Rothberg argues that “far from blocking other historical memories from view in a competitive struggle for recognition, the emergence of Holocaust memory on a global scale has contributed to the articulation of other histories—some of them predicating the Nazi genocide, such as slavery, and others taking place later, such as the Algerian War of Independence” (6). Accordingly, his book explores multidirectional memories of the Holocaust and European colonialism to stimulate cross-racial mutual understanding and solidarity, on which, Rothberg believes, new forms of justice are grounded in a globalizing world. Many of the novelists considered here adopt a similar comparative approach to invoke historical relatedness. Both Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower and Perry Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar, for example, explore the intersection between the history of Japanese American internment and Native American removal. McCann’s Let the Great World Spin juxtaposes the legacies of African American slavery, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amy Waldman’s The Submission conjures up the backlash against an alternate 9/11 memorial design by a Muslim American architect in comparison with that against Maya Lin’s design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. These novels bring to the fore the tension between competitive memory and multidirectional memory, and some of them go on to warn against the abuses of historical analogies in political discourse that homogenizes conceptions of the U.S. on ethnic,



racial, or religious grounds. The cultural memory and multidirectional memory evoked in these novels arouses the reader’s consciousness of a multicultural and transnational American history and strengthens the national sense of a border-crossing collective identity. What Rothberg’s model of multidirectional memory has not considered but by no means excluded is the reader’s evocation of historical analogies in the cases when there are no such cross-references in the historical narrative itself. It so happens to many of Otsuka’s, Roth’s, and McCann’s readers and critics who read the pre-9/11 historical novels as a metaphor or analogy for the events of 9/11 or their aftermath. In doing so, as I see it, readers are also actively engaged in the ongoing production of multidirectional memory. Here, Robinson’s action-oriented approach to historical narrative, as discussed previously, and Mead’s theory of the emergent present illuminate the reader’s productive view of the past. Robinson (2011) rejects both traditional historiography that aims to provide an authenticated facsimile of the absolute past and postmodernist belief that history has no immanent meaning. He argues that historical narratives “function prospectively as well as retrospectively” (13) because people experience the passage of time as a sequence of connected events. Based on past experiences, present attention, and anticipation of the future, the characters (historical agents) plot their lives in the first-order narrative, and the historical novelist embeds that story within his or her own interpretative and analytical model of emplotment in the second-order narrative told to the reader (24). For Robinson, the past and present are intertwined not only in the anachronistic narrative worlds of the historical novel but in the transmission of cultural memory whose “subsequent interpretation reactivates performatively what is immanent in the text’s past present, in a fusion of the reader’s imaginative projections with what the author’s words evoke both subjectively and interpersonally within an interpretive community” (52). Despite the actuality of the past that is “irrecoverable,” the reader’s interpretation, contingent on both the subjective investment and “the objective correlative of the text,” forms “a virtual existence as mental representations which constitute the reader’s experiential present past” (53). Moreover, the fact that the reader’s imaginative projections can be evoked “both subjectively and interpersonally” demonstrates the fusion of cultural memory, individual memory, as well as collective memory, to constitute the reader’s present past that can be shared “within an interpretive community” (52). A multidirectional network of memory that involves cultural, individual, and collective



memories is thus created when more than a few readers, as an interpretative community, interpret the past events that are emplotted in the historical novels as metaphors or analogies to the events of 9/11 or their aftermath. The model of multidirectional memory and the interplay between the past present, past future, and present past may turn out to be even more dynamic than Rothberg and Robinson realized if we take cues from Mead to reconsider the present as the emergent that implies relativity and sociality. As discussed previously, Mead does not object to the irrevocable character of the past that determines the conditions from which the present arises. Such an irreversible relation between the past and the present may explain why so many contemporary novelists and scholars continually use the past in their fictional and academic work to make sense of their present situation. It also justifies why pursuing historical truth is commonly taken as a precondition for justice. And yet, while accepting partially the causal explanation of the past as the antecedent of the present, Mead also questions the complete determination of the present by the past. He argues that, instead of being “a piece cut out anywhere from the temporal dimension of uniformly passing reality,” a present involves “becoming” and refers primarily to “the emergent event,” that is, the occurrence of something “which by its change, continuance, or disappearance, adds to later passages a content they would not otherwise have possessed” (52). The past is therefore not perceived as the antecedent that determines the present or as absolute past with finality, but rather redefined as “the relation of the emergent event to the situation out of which it arose,” which, as Mead claims, “brings us to relativity” (53). From the standpoint of the emergent, the past becomes a different past, just as “there has never been present in experience a past which has not changed with the passing generations” (36). This explains how the past of WWII internment becomes a different past from the standpoint of the emergent in the experiences of the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei Japanese Americans, as Chap. 4 further illuminates in comparing internment narratives with neo-internment narratives that trigger both the surviving internees’ memoires and the later generation’s postmemories. Not only the past becomes a different past but the world becomes a different world because of the occurrence of any emergent event in the present. Mead points out the implied sociality of the present with reference to “the process of readjustment that emergence involves” (73). When new events arise in the present, they enter into relationship with the old



and thus a process of readjustment for both the old and the new. This ongoing process of readjustment helps us see how not only memory but also the events of 9/11, their aftermath, or any emergent event that occurs in the reader’s present can alter the reader’s interpretation of the past and how the past events enter the social situation out of which the emergent arises. The Bush administration’s Homeland Security policy and Trump’s rise to the presidency may at first seem as though they are novel events that emerge in a completely new environment, or Lindbergh’s being elected American president and implementing “America First” initiative may remain unrealized events in Roth’s alternate history. And yet, when they enter into dialogical relations in contemporary readers’ invocation of historical analogies, it becomes apparent that “[t]he social situation must be there if there is to be consciousness of it” (Mead 74). The relations between these new and old or unrealized events make the reader realize “the carrying on of identical conditions from the past into the present” (75). On the one hand, as exemplified by Roth’s and other novels examined in the present study, history is re-made when the emergent constantly spawns new relations and the perspective of the past becomes different. On the other hand, while historical relatedness beyond uniqueness manifests the multidirectionality of memory and produces new forms of justice in transnational and multicultural U.S., the analogies between different events of victimization reveal perpetual fear of historical recurrence and call for actions to avoid repeating past mistakes. Functioning as carriers of cultural memory and political literary practices, these novels suggest that to re-make history for a better future hinges on both a relative perspective of reality and the transformation of multidirectional memory into ethical actions to create the social situation out of which cross-racial solidarity can emerge.

Notes 1. As I will explain in more detail in a later section, I am inclined to read alternate history fiction that has emerged since the 1990s as a subgenre of historical fiction, rather than science fiction, because of the commonality both alternate history fiction and historical fiction share in terms of historical development, realistic style of representation, and using catastrophe as a subject matter. 2. Gallagher’s 2018 book, Telling It like It Wasn’t, bears the same title as her journal article published in 2010.



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“America First”: Perpetual Fear, Memory, and Everyday Life in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Michael Chabon and Philip Roth, two renowned Jewish American writers, published alternate history novels that have been widely read as either direct or indirect responses of the novelists to the events of 9/11 and their aftermath in relation to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.1 Instead of depicting Jews and Americans as victims, as mainstream trauma narratives normally do, Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007) aims its criticism at Zionists who, in the novel, are portrayed as fanatic terrorists collaborating in secret with the American government to expel the Arabs from Jerusalem. Chabon’s novel tells one of the “true alternate history stories,” which “take place years after a change in a nexus event, which has resulted in a radically changed world” (Hellekson 2001, 7). Historical records reveal that, in 1939–1940, the Interior Secretary Harold Ickes supported a proposal to resettle European Jewish refugees on the Alaskan territory, but the proposal was killed in Congress. Reviving Ickes’s proposal of resettlement, Chabon’s novel conjures up an alternative world, in which the U.S. provisionally gave the fictional federal district of Sitka in Alaska to the Jews in 1948, the “strange times to be a Jew,” as in August that year, “the defense of Jerusalem collapsed and outnumbered Jews of the three-­ month-­old republic of Israel were routed, massacred, and driven into the

This chapter is derived in part from an article published in Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities 46 (2019): 59–77. © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




sea” (Chabon 2007, 29). The Sitka Settlement Act was passed on the condition that, in sixty years, that is in 2008, the Americans would get the area back, and “the Sitka Jews would be left once again to shift for themselves” (29). Chabon’s novel opens in 2007, another “strange times to be a Jew” because “[n]othing is clear about the upcoming Reversion” (7). A murder that the homicide detective, Landsman, and his colleagues are investigating leads them to discover the conspiracy of Sitka Zionists to bomb the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, as a stepping stone to restore the Jewish state of Israel (315). It is hinted that the American government supports and sponsors the Jewish “crazy yids running around Arab Palestine, blown up shrines and following Messiahs and starting World War III” (322). For Brygida Gasztold (2014), The Yiddish Policemen’s Union “combines a noir detective story with the Holocaust narrative and counterfactual history with the 9/11 novel” (70). Margaret Scanlan contends (2011) that, “[b]y centering his plot on an inverse 9/11, .  .  . Chabon identifies the violence [the bombing of the Dome of the Rock] in the impulse, which some Christians and Jews share with radical Islam, to remake the present in the image of a dead past” (519). Set in the post-9/11 era, Chabon’s alternate history novel engages with religious fanaticism of radical Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, thereby transcending victimhood at the core of many trauma narratives of 9/11 and the Holocaust. Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), which this chapter concentrates on, specifically differs from Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in its historical setting in the 1940s prior to the American entry into WWII, but curiously it has been read, more often than not, as a post-9/11 novel. Roth’s novel asks what might have happened had Charles Lindbergh been nominated by the Republican Party as the candidate in the 1940 election, defeated Franklin Roosevelt, and become the thirty-third American president.2 This is the point of divergence that distinguishes Roth’s alternate history fiction from historical fiction that likewise tackles the subject of Nazism and anti-Semitism in the 1940s. Echoing his historical counterpart, an aviation hero and an anti-Semite, Roth’s Lindbergh strikes a deal with Germany to keep the U.S. out of WWII and starts the widespread persecution of Jews on various levels. In the name of greater assimilation, the Office of American Absorption (OAA)  draws up programs to forcibly relocate selected Jewish families from their urban neighborhood to towns across the South and Midwest. In 1942, President Lindbergh disappears mysteriously. Radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany



start to circulate rumors which attribute Lindbergh’s disappearance to the Jews’ plot against America. Before long, angry mobs storm the streets, attack, kill, and humiliate Jews. In the end, Mrs. Lindbergh appeals to the public for peace and unity, and asks the police to end the search for President Lindbergh. In special elections held in November, former president Roosevelt is re-elected for a third presidential term. In December 1942, a year later than in actual history, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, the U.S. enters the war, and history is back on track in Roth’s novel. The Plot Against America is a work of alternate history, through which Roth, quite paradoxically, insists on remembering the past and telling the historical truth. To some extent, the novel refutes Gavriel Rosenfeld’s argument that alternate histories are “essentially defined by an ‘estranging’ rather than a mimetic relationship to historical reality” (2005, 5). In writing the novel, Roth endeavors to be as faithful as possible to historical reality. In “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” Roth (2004a) expounds on his motives and principles of writing: “My every imaginative effort was directed toward making the effect of that reality as strong as I could, and not so as to illuminate the present through the past but to illuminate the past through the past.” Through The Plot Against America, Roth impels its readers to know and to try to understand the often neglected anti-Semitic past of the U.S. While accurately observing most historical facts, the novel, after all, has a significant point of divergence from actual history as it speculates on how the course of history might have been altered had pro-Nazi Lindbergh been elected. It therefore applies moral judgment to history and reveals how Roth’s memory is entangled with the emotion of fear, as exemplified in the novel’s speculative accounts of alternate history in the form as nightmare scenarios. Roth’s fear is a fear specifically of Nazism and anti-Semitism to arise and become rampant at any time. So far, however, the interpretations of Roth’s novel as either an allegory of the Bush administration or a prophecy of the Trump presidency have formed a predominant part of the existing scholarship on the novel. The reception of the novel manifests, in the words of Catherine Gallagher (2010), that “at any single moment numerous unrealized pasts are still alive within us” (24). Inviting its readers to imagine how much worse things might have been in the past, Roth’s novel appears, in effect, to have spurred readers’ concurrent thinking of how possible it is to have a racist national leader in the present day and what consequences it may induce. As this chapter aims to point out, The Plot Against America has become



part of an evolving culture of fear from which it draws its force and to which it lends itself. What contemporary readers fear, as reflected in their presentist readings of Roth’s novel, is not interventionism or isolationism that the Bush or Trump administration endorses respectively in their position on international relations. It is profoundly a fear of the grand narrative of “America First,” which, be it interventionist or isolationist, informs a totalizing vision of American history and national identity that, in stressing the nation’s progress, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, disregards the heterogeneity of experiences and identities within the U.S. This chapter takes into serious account Roth’s effort to “illuminate the past through the past” (2004a) and the possibilities of the alternate history novel for providing critical comments on the present and shaping the future. Attending to the entangled relationship of fear, memory, and everyday life, I examine how Roth’s novel strategically mixes history and alternate history to imagine a counterfactual yet plausible anti-Semitic American president, and in doing so, it furnishes a cultural history of powerful fears haunting the American historical consciousness and imagination of “America First” since WWII to the present. I argue that The Plot Against America and the contemporary reader’s response to it manifests that fear is not only a kind of emotion but a habit acquired over time. In a culture of fear that seems perpetual, Roth’s novel illuminates the influence of fear on how one remembers the past and views one’s home. It further suggests that, if fear is cultivated like a habit, ordinary individuals can change the habit or counteract its effects by engaging in daily practices of resistance on a small scale.

The Impact of “America First” in the Everyday Life Stressing both the historical truth of anti-Semitism and the historical possibility of having Lindbergh as president of the U.S., Roth’s The Plot Against America focuses on the everyday life of ordinary American Jews in the 1940s. It employs the realistic style so characteristic of Roth’s later works that were published in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century, such as American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000).3 Along with these novels, The Plot Against America demonstrates Roth’s serious engagement with American history and his endeavor to keep ethnic minority groups’ marginalized memories alive. In “Roth’s America,” Debra Shostak (2011a) points out that Roth’s later writing “provides a rich texture of real things, drawing on the sensual



detail of his memory” and “shows the interpenetration of the material world with the self in time” (12). In doing so, she argues, Roth “reveals the common American history in the smallest of things” (12). That is indeed what Roth has aimed for in The Plot Against America when it tackles the impact of the grand narrative and policy of “America First.” In “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” Roth (2004a) grants that “my talent isn’t for imagining events on the grand scale.” Rather, he explains, I imagined something small, really, small enough to be credible, I hoped, that could easily have happened in an American presidential election in 1940, when the country was angrily divided between the Republican isolationists . . . and the Democratic interventionists. . . .

Here it can be seen that the principle guiding Roth’s writing of the novel resonates with the agenda of the everyday-life historians whose scale or focus of writing, as John Brewer (2010) remarks, “is often small, personal and intimate” (90). Very much like an everyday-life historian whose shift in scale “offers the possibility not merely of greater complexity but of greater completeness” (Brewer 2010, 97), Roth attends to stories of ordinary American Jews who are usually elided completely in official history. In fact, not only do everyday-life historians and realistic fiction writers attend to ordinary individuals, their habits, and daily life, but the alternate historians do. The rise of the counterfactual historical study since the 1980s onwards has remarkably coincided with that of the study of everyday life history, as well as American ethnic novels. Although the study of the history of the everyday emerged in 1960s West Germany, under the influence of capitalism, Marxism, and the Leftist critical tradition (Brewer 2010, 91–92), it reached its culmination in the 1980s with the publication of The History of Everyday Life. The editor, Alf Lüdtke (1995), explains that the history of everyday life revolves around “the life and survival of those who have remained largely anonymous in history—the ‘nameless’ multitudes in their workday trials and tribulations” (4). Just as European historians turned their attention to formerly invisible activities of the everyday life to narrate history from below, a growing number of American ethnic minority writers retold the stories of European colonial settlement, Indian removal, African American slavery and emancipation. In the 1970s and 1980s, the decades of reparations, Issei and Nisei Japanese Americans also published internment narratives in response to the Redress Movement



(Chap. 4). At around the same time, alternate historians “began to demonstrate the historical possibility that, for example, the U.S. might have adopted more equitable policies toward native populations” (Gallagher 2010, 18). Emerging in the political climate of reparations and resulting largely from the desire for historical justice, the study of everyday life history and American ethnic novels preceded the increase in alternate history novels in the 1990s and might have arguably propelled Roth into writing The Plot Against America. In The Plot Against America, wherein alternate history, counterhistory, and everyday life history are intermingled, Roth portrays a dystopian alternative world through the changes in the everyday life of Philip, his family, and neighbors, to reveal the consequences of the grand narrative of “America First” on ordinary individuals.4 If the overt political aim of the history of everyday life is “to awaken a feeling of Betroffenheit, personal emotional concern” for the oppressed and marginalized (Lüdtke 1995, 23), Roth’s novel does it most successfully by characterizing the emotion of fear as a habit cultivated and acquired over time by his protagonists after Lindbergh is nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. The novel opens with the sentence: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear” (Roth 2004b, 1). In the novel, “perpetual fear” has double meanings. “Perpetual,” understood in the sense of “happening all the time,” refers to the control of fear over Philip’s memories in childhood and its lingering into adulthood. Yet, in the sense of “continuing forever or often repeated in the same way,” “perpetual” also suggests that Philip’s feeling of fear is based on repetition, like habits. To depict the emotion of fear as habits, as Lars Svendsen (2008) contends, is to bring to the fore that fear is “not simply something ‘given,’ but something that can be cultivated and changed” (45). Roth’s novel draws attention to the “habitual nature” of “what could be described as low-intensity fear” that “surrounds us and forms a backdrop of our experiences and interpretations of the world” (Svendsen 2008, 46). The acquired habit of fear influences the way the novel’s Jewish protagonists view their homes and a series of daily activities closely related to them, to the extent that some of them surrender and become fearmongers, whereas others do everything possible, including small things in daily life, either to avoid or to face, reduce, and overcome fears. The first four pages of Roth’s novel delineate Philip’s family’s flat, street, and neighborhood in Newark. A flat, street, or neighborhood is not simply a place. Rather, to everyday-life historians, each of these is a



“location” of paramount importance “in determining the identity of the group, the will to collective action, and the responses of external forces” (Steege et al. 2008, 363). When fear changes the way Roth’s protagonists view these locations of home, it thereupon reflects their changing views of the self and the community. Before Lindbergh’s nomination, young Philip and his family appear to feel at home in the Weequahic neighborhood, where they build strong bonds with their Jewish friends and neighbors. As Philip recalls, We were a happy family in 1940. My parents were outgoing, hospitable people, their friends culled from among my father’s associates at the office and from the women who along with my mother had helped to organize the Parent-Teacher Association at newly built Chancellor Avenue School, where my brother and I were pupils. All were Jews. (2)

Philip’s memories of a blissful Jewish enclave support Ron Johnston et al.’s argument that “[s]patial separation among minority groups may also result from positive goals” (2002, 211). That is, members of minority groups, like the American Jews that Roth depicts in the novel, “may wish to congregate in certain areas to facilitate intra-community interaction, to use community-focused facilities, such as churches, clubs and shops, and as the bases for community-based businesses” (Johnston et al. 2002, 211). “Such a desire to congregate,” Johnston et al. suggest, “reflects a wish to sustain their group cultures and identities, rather than to distance themselves from their hosts” (2002, 211). Roth’s novel likewise refutes the claim that the greater the minority groups’ segregation is, the less their assimilation. It focuses on such details as the clothing and accent of the Weequahic residents, either outdoors or in their houses, to bring out their Americanness. For instance, Philip remembers that, even as a seven-year-­ old boy, he could easily notice that “[n]obody in the neighborhood had a beard or addressed in the antiquated Old World style or wore a skull-cap,” and “hardly anyone in the vicinity spoke with an accent” (Roth 2004b, 3, 4). Living in a Jewish neighborhood, Philip considers himself “an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world” (7). Being both Jewish and American, Philip, his parents, and their neighbors feel no conflict of allegiances even if they congregate in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark. After Lindbergh is nominated as the Republican candidate and is elected president, however, Philip’s household and the Weequahic



neighborhood change drastically as a result of the increasing tension between Jewishness and Americanness that gradually threatens the local residents’ self-perception. It starts, first of all, with Philip’s cousin Alvin’s leaving for Canada “to join the Canadian armed forces, just as he said he would, and fight on the British side against Hitler” (Roth 2004b, 44). Being a Jew, Alvin finds it impossible to side with the isolationist U.S. even before Lindbergh’s presidency. Then, the family’s friends, one after another, leave the neighborhood. Some of them choose to migrate to Canada for fear of anti-Semitic prejudice emanating from the Lindbergh administration. This is because Lindbergh has proven himself a bigot, following his nomination as a candidate, by denouncing “Jews over the airwaves to a national audience as ‘other peoples’” (16). Within weeks of the inauguration in the novel’s alternative timeline, Lindbergh meets personally with Hitler and signs “‘an understanding’ guaranteeing peaceful relations between Germany and the United States” (53–54). At a time of such political turmoil, Roth shows that a foreign country like neighboring Canada can be more homey to American Jews than their anti-Semitic homeland. Even Philip’s parents talk about moving to Canada, a response which recalls what Steege et al. (2008) have said about ordinary people’s “limitations” and “responsibility for making their own history” (362). Indeed, the American Jews in Roth’s novel have limited agency, considering they are nearly powerless in the face of the anti-Semitism that threatens their lives and homes. Yet, the decision to abandon their local community and to live and fight in another country “denotes a type of unruly behavior that is potentially liberating for the individual but simultaneously continues to interact with the structures of power” (Steege et al. 2008, 373). To put it simply, even if the American Jews in the novel are not powerful enough to control the situations and to feel no fear, many of them do not yield to the authorities that menace. However, in Roth’s novel, not all Jews hate Lindbergh. Some people, like Philip’s aunt, Evelyn, and her fiancée Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, are fearmongers who should be held responsible, at least partly, for heightening the tension between the local Jewish community and white American society. In full support of Lindbergh’s foreign policy of isolationism and the national policy of assimilation, they voluntarily help the newly created Office of American Absorption. Rabbi Bengelsdorf even serves as “the first director of the OAA office for the state of New Jersey” (Roth 2004b, 85) and assists in running two programs, Just Folks and Homestead 42, to assimilate religious and ethnic minorities into the larger society. Despite



the fictionality of the OAA office, its establishment truthfully reflects the predominant role that the concept of assimilation played in the 1940s and 1950s American society that “saw conflict as generated by ‘maladjustment’” (Zunz et  al. 1985, 53). Under the circumstances, anyone who does not conform to the social norms of cohesion is at risk of becoming an unwelcomed outsider at one’s own home. To take the risk or not is a difficult question that all Jews in the novel have to confront. Roth portrays how Just Folks, “a volunteer work program introducing city youth to the traditional ways of heartland life” (2004b, 84), causes conflicts between family members rather than unite them. For Philip’s father, for example, the program is “the first step in a Lindbergh plan to separate Jewish children from their parents, to erode the solidarity of the Jewish family” (86). Philip’s brother Sandy, however, sides with his aunt. As the novel’s narrator ironically puts it, “[u]nder the auspices of Just Folks,” Sandy leaves home for the first time “for a summer ‘apprenticeship’ with a Kentucky tobacco farmer” (84). There Sandy discovers Mr. Mawhinney, the farmer, to be a “paragon,” as opposed to his father, who is “only a Jew” (93, 94). Obviously, after only a summer in Kentucky, Sandy is brainwashed into thinking that Jewishness is a defect. It is a given that Mr. Mawhinney is an almost perfect man, as the phrase “[i]t went without saying” indicates, for he is “a Christian, a long-­standing member of the great overpowering majority that fought the Revolution and founded the nation and conquered the wilderness” (93). To Sandy, it pertains above all to whiteness and Christianity, from which every perfection is derived, despite the fact that the white Christian majority “subjugated the Indian and enslaved the Negro and emancipated the Negro and segregated the Negro” (93). Through Sandy’s physical and emotional distance from the Jewish community in Newark and his growing yet blind admiration for white Christians, Roth construes white supremacy as a myth that the U.S. has lived by since the founding of the nation. Even though in the 2008 and 2012 elections an African American was elected president, the outcome of the 2016 election and the surge in white supremacy during the first year of Trump’s presidency reflect ongoing challenges that the American society is facing in dealing with race relations.5 In the novel, the Jews look at their homes habitually in fear, as a second program, Homestead 42, is subsequently established as the OAA’s new nationwide initiative. As I will elaborate in more detail later, this particular habit of perceiving homes in fear appears to be carried, from Roth’s alternate history novel, into the present day. To more than a few of Roth’s



readers, Homestead 42 is reminiscent of post-9/11 Homeland Security. In reality, there were also several precedents before. Roth bases the fictional Homestead 42 on precedents that were implemented in accordance with the Homestead Act, which was passed in 1862 and remained in effect until 1988 in actual history. In a tone as ironic as when he is talking about Just Folks, the adult Philip remembers the “auspices” of Homestead 42 (218). The Lindbergh administration promises the Jewish families that are “fortunate enough to have been chosen” that they will receive “exciting new opportunities to expand their horizons and to strengthen their country” (218, 204). The fact is that “[t]wo hundred and twenty-five Jewish families have already been told to vacate the cities of America’s northeast in order to be shipped thousands of miles from family and friends” (229). The true intention of launching Homestead 42 is to scatter “frightened, paranoid ghetto Jews” (227), as Sandy learns from Aunt Evelyn. Unlike Philip’s family and Jewish neighbors, who consider Weequahic a hospitable ethnic enclave, Aunt Evelyn constantly refers to it as a ghetto. When talking with young Philip, she associates residential segregation negatively with self-isolation and ignores the positive goals of the Jewish neighborhoods. Instead of benefiting the chosen Jews as it claims, Homestead 42 merely tears them from their families and homes, relocating them where they have no friends or support community. For example, because Philip’s father is selected by the OAA office in a partnership with Metropolitan Life to be “transferred from Metropolitan’s Newark district to a district office opening in Danville, Kentucky” (205), the whole family must accompany him. Seeing how his parents are put in a state of agitation and not wanting to leave the neighborhood himself, Philip decides to secretly ask Aunt Evelyn for help. He betrays his playmate and downstairs neighbor, Seldon Wishnow, whose mother also works for Metropolitan Life, by causing Mrs. Wishnow to be transferred to Kentucky. When Philip’s father decides to quit his job rather than be transferred to Kentucky, it results in Philip’s imagining Seldon, “off living with his mother, the only Jewish kid in Danville, Kentucky” (239). For fear of losing the local community they are deeply attached to, Philip and his father do everything they could to secure their home, while the most unfortunate Wishnow family can do nothing but to rebuild their home elsewhere and nowhere. Fear is repeatedly and endlessly felt in the novel because when one finally feels safe from the threats of Just Folks and Homestead 42, a third program is introduced. After more and more of Philip’s neighbors leave the neighborhood, both voluntarily and involuntarily, members of other



ethnic groups are moved in. Philip’s new neighbors are an Italian family arranged through “a previously unpublicized section of the homesteading plan called the Good Neighbor Project” (280). On the pretext of “‘enrich[ing]’ the ‘Americanness’ of everyone involved,” the Good Neighbor Project “introduce[s] a steadily increasing number of non-­ Jewish residents into predominantly Jewish neighborhoods” (280). The real reason is, however, to disperse and separate Jews and to prevent them from unifying against the government. Clearly, to the Lindbergh administration, Jewishness is the very antithesis of Americanness. Such a prejudice, presuming Jews are hostile to American principles, renders a Jewish enclave undesirable. Through the displacement of Jewish families, their replacement by gentile families in local communities, and, above all, their everyday fear, Roth demonstrates how national policies wreck ordinary people’s lives, leaving them torn from their communities and prime targets for alienation and loneliness.

Roth’s and the Contemporary Reader’s Fear Fear indeed presides over memories, which disturb and frighten not only the novel’s adult narrator Philip but also Roth himself, as this section will explicate. Yet, according to affect studies, fear is often, if not always, related to the future. In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed (2004) asserts that fear “involves an anticipation of hurt or injury” (65). Svendsen (2008) likewise claims, in A Philosophy of Fear, that “the core of fear is the assumption of a negative future situation” (39). It may seem unintelligible, if not contradictory, to say that fear at once “presides over . . . memories” (Roth 2004b, 1) and “projects us from the present into a future” (Ahmed 2004, 65). However, The Plot Against America and the contemporary reader’s response to it indicate that fearful memories of past or unrealized events play a pivotal role in how we familiarize what is happening in the present and predict what is likely to happen in the future. The “perpetual fear” that is underscored in the opening line of the novel haunts Roth and his contemporary readers who become aware of the structural possibility of the novel’s alternate history and the futurity of fear. Roth projects his own fear of Nazism and anti-Semitism onto Philip in The Plot Against America. His allohistorical account of a pro-Nazi politician winning the American presidential election in 1940 is historically plausible as it is convincingly supported by detailed historical documentation and Roth’s childhood memories of rampant anti-­Semitism. At the



political level, Lindbergh is not a purely fictional character. Roth’s depiction of Lindbergh’s isolationism and anti-Semitism is based on historical records, as “reflected unambiguously in his speeches, diaries and letters” (Roth 2004a). Roth even provides the full text of Lindbergh’s 1941 speech to the rally of the America First committee, as a postscript to the novel, for his readers’ reference. All these show that, except for making Lindbergh the thirty-third American president, “everything else” in the novel has been made, as Roth (2004a) himself claims, “as close to factual truth as I could.” At the personal level, the Roth family in the novel resembles the author’s family so closely that the story reads almost like a family memoir. The family’s second son, who is also the first-person narrator of the story, bears the same name as the author, Philip Roth, rendering the novel the famously last volume of the “Roth books.”6 Roth (2004a) explains that writing the novel “gave me an opportunity to bring my parents back from the grave and restore them to what they were at the height of their powers in their late 30’s.” He continues, “I’ve tried to portray them here as faithfully as I could—as though I were, in fact, writing nonfiction.” The Plot Against America is evidently Roth’s another attempt, in addition to his autobiography The Facts, at preserving personal memories and telling ordinary people’s stories under the impact of anti-Semitism. Although the Nazi-sympathizer Lindbergh never ruled the U.S., the fear of Roth and his fictionalized protagonist Philip is reasonable and should not be mistaken for anxiety that is nowhere, given the prevalence of anti-Semitism in American history. Despite its growing prominence, alternate history as a genre has not been studied seriously as its critics argue that “exploring what might have happened but never did amounted to little more than idle speculation based on sheer fancy or wishful thinking” (Rosenfeld 2005, 3). Even alternate histories produced by high-brow writers like Roth provoke sharp criticism. In “Plots Against America,” for example, Walter Benn Michaels (2006) takes Roth’s alternate history for a wild game of imagination, as he sarcastically questions, “Why should we be outraged by what didn’t happen rather than outraged by what we did?” (296). In truth not only African Americans, whose plight Michaels argues should have attracted more public and critical attention, but also American Jews have faced threat from far-right extremists for decades. Right at the beginning of his autobiography, The Facts, Roth recounts the insecurity he felt growing up in late 1930s Newark, New Jersey. When he was nine years old, Roth recalls, he was aware of hostilities that broke out abroad and, more terrifyingly, blatant anti-Semitic acts which gentile Americans



frequently lashed out at Jews, physically and verbally. As Roth ([1988]  1989) writes, “[t]he greatest menace while I was growing up came from abroad, from the Germans and the Japanese, our enemies because we were Americans” (20). Ironically, “[a]t home the biggest threat came from Americans who opposed or resisted us—or condescended to us or rigorously excluded us—because we were Jews” (Roth [1988] 1989, 20). In the late 1930s, for American Jews faced with both internal trouble and outside aggression, nowhere was home. Roth’s authentic and detailed autobiographical account in The Facts reverberates throughout the novel’s adult narrator Philip’s flashbacks to his childhood experience. Under the circumstances, the threat of Lindbergh is as easily identifiable in the context of the novel as it was in actual history. On a transnational level, the anti-Semitism that Roth portrays in The Plot Against America reminds his readers of the legacy of the Holocaust that persecuted the Jews in Nazi Germany and other European countries in the 1930s and 40s. It is a perpetual fear shared by Jews all over the world and by several contemporary writers who, like Roth, have made conjectures as to the terrifying prospect of the triumph of Nazi Germany. Indeed, as Yu-cheng Lee (2016) points out, the Holocaust is a historical trauma that is “both personal (including family and relatives) and collective (including the entire community and race)” (12).7 It has played “a very important part in trauma theories over the past decades” and “carries a universal meaning despite its being a uniquely Jewish tragedy” (Lee 2016, 12–13). Not only trauma narratives but alternate histories of the Third Reich, Holocaust, and anti-Semitism have appeared in the U.S., as well as other countries like Britain and Germany, in the form of novels, short stories, film, television shows, comic books, and so on. As Rosenfeld (2005) asserts, “the experience of Nazism has come to shape the Western imagination” since the end of WWII and particularly in the 1990s (1). In addition to Roth’s The Plot Against America, other works of alternate histories have explored a wide range of counterfactual questions: What if Nazi Germany had won WWII? What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1944? What if the U.S. had not intervened? These speculations about alternate outcomes to the Nazi era “reflect the centrality of the Nazi past in Western memory” (Rosenfeld 2005, 12). Illustrating Roth’s endeavor to “illuminate the past through the past” (2004a), The Plot Against America can be seen as part of the collective speculative trends that provide insights into broader views of the Nazi era and serve as documents of cultural memory that shapes a popular culture of fear.



After all, alternate history is not real and can at best be seen as “what-if” or “almost-was” (Schneider-Mayerson 2009, 71). The structural possibility of the alternate history resonates, to some extent, with that of fear, whose object, “rather than arriving, might pass us by” (Ahmed 2004, 65). Just as “the possibility of the loss of the object makes what is fearsome all the more fearsome” (Ahmed 2004, 65), Roth’s alternate history that was not quite present makes it more fearsome than what the actual history of anti-Semitism was. It is such a perpetual fear of a past that could be worse than what it had been realized and of the worst yet to come that may haunt Roth’s readers when they read the novel. When Rosenfeld (2005) claims that the relationship of alternate histories to historical reality is essentially “estranging” (5), she emphasizes how alternate histories defamiliarize the reader’s processing of historical knowledge. Quite the opposite has happened to many of Roth’s contemporary readers, who find the alternative world in The Plot Against America strangely familiar, as if it were mirroring their own. The Plot Against America was widely read by its contemporary readers as a parable of the post-9/11 political conditions, despite Roth’s explanation that the novel is not meant as a “roman à clef to the present moment in America” (2004a).8 Steven G. Kellman’s study (2008) observes a tendency in the novel’s early reviews to see “the plot against America it portrayed [as] really Bush’s consolidation and abuse of power at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (116).9 More specifically, Andrew S.  Gross (2010) notices that, in Roth’s novel, “[t]he oft-repeated term ‘homeland’ resonates with the rhetoric emerging in response to 9/11, evident, for instance, in the Department of Homeland Security, which was formed in response to the attack” (416). Scanlan (2011) holds a similar opinion as Gross’s, as she points out Philip’s repetition of “the child-like sentence, ‘Our homeland was America’” in the novel, evocative of Bush’s “archaic” use of “homeland” in his proposal of the Department of Homeland Security (511). These reviewers and critics look at Roth’s Lindbergh with fear as if he were a stand-in for Bush. At the same time, several literary critics caution against reducing Roth’s novel to a simple allegory, but they still, nearly compulsively, repetitively link the novel to 9/11 and the Bush administration’s response in the ensuing years. Charles Lewis (2008), for example, suggests that “even a work that makes no reference to 9/11 and whose historical subject precedes that event by over half a century can be read productively in relation to 9/11” (250). He supports his contention by reading Roth’s novel as a



9/11 “prosthetic screen,” namely “a substitute surface that both registers the traumatic consequence of that event and stands in as the projected realization of it” (248).10 Both Dan Shiffman (2009) and Brett Ashley Kaplan (2015) acknowledge Roth’s explanatory statements in “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” but, as Kaplan explains, “while I of course want to take seriously Roth’s insistence that The Plot Against America is not about the Bush years, I think it is safe to say that there are undeniable echoes that allow for legitimate and fruitful comparisons” (2015, 117). Shiffman, on the one hand, recognizes that Roth’s novel “does, even if inadvertently, provoke comparisons to recent events and specifically to George W. Bush,” and on the other hand, he points out that “it does not make sense to read The Plot Against America as a protest of the war in Iraq—President Bush’s foreign policy was the opposite of Lindbergh’s” (2009, 62). For Shiffman, oversimplified historical analogies overlook the complexity of Roth’s novel, but it does not mean that the novel suggests no reference to 9/11, or to the War on Terror. Instead, as Shiffman argues, The Plot Against America is not merely an alternate history novel but “very much a post-9/11 text that dramatizes the impossibility of isolationism and of living in an invulnerable America” (2009, 62–63). To some extent, these literary studies echo the earlier reviews of the novel in articulating the present concerns of the post-9/11 reader about the possible occurrence of an even worse terrorist attack or the resurgence of racism and xenophobia in the name of national security and patriotism. A lot can be said about the similarities and differences between the alternative world that Roth imagines under Lindbergh’s leadership and the post-9/11 U.S. in the Bush administration.11 What is especially worth noting is, as Kellman (2008) pinpoints, their “common climate of fear” (118). The immediate commercial success and the reader’s reception of Roth’s novel as “a parable of contemporary malefactions, a warning that it can, and did happen here” (Kellman 2008, 122–23) shows that not only speculative accounts about the past but contemporary readers’ interpretations “are driven by many of the same psychological forces that determine how the past takes shape in remembrance” (Rosenfeld 2002, 93). Just as fear influences how Roth’s alternate history represents how the past might have been, it has also driven many of Roth’s readers to see Roth’s Lindbergh as the uncanny double of George W.  Bush, who was the American president when The Plot Against America was published in 2004.



Years after its first publication in 2004 and beyond the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Roth’s novel has recently gained resurgent popularity since Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2017. It is a curious paradox that Roth’s rewriting of part of the 1940s American history is argued by some to have envisioned the future possibility of having an American president like Trump. Despite the difference that Roth (2018) considers “enormous” between Lindbergh and Trump, The Plot Against America has been found to be prescient. We know from historical records that, on September 11, 1941, Lindbergh delivered a speech, “Who Are the War Agitators?” to the America First Committee, a hugely popular political movement opposing the American entry into WWII. In The Plot Against America, Roth “move[s] the speech back to the previous year,” but he “[does]n’t alter its content or impact” (2004a). According to the script of the speech, Lindbergh declared at the rally that he was not attacking Jews, but still asserted that American Jews were menacing. “Their greatest danger to this country,” Lindbergh was quoted as saying, “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government” (Roth 2004b, 387). Furthermore, Lindbergh appealed to the Committee and their supporters to stay out of the European war even if the Jewish people were suffering from mass persecution in Germany. For him, the Jews were merely “other peoples” who cared about “their own interests” and whose “natural passions and prejudices” in urging the country to join the war would “lead our country to destruction” (Roth 2004b, 388). Tantamount to Lindbergh’s speech to the America First Committee, President Trump’s inauguration speech, delivered on January 20, 2017, has a similarly nativist and isolationist tone, even though, in a 2016 interview with the New York Times, Trump denied that he is an isolationist. On Inauguration Day, President Trump (2017) informed the American people: For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.

All these actions done for others, according to Trump, have led to the dissipation of “the wealth, strength and confidence of our country.” From the day he took office, Trump promised that “a new vision will govern our land,” and “it’s going to be only America first, America first.” There is a



time interval of seventy-six years between the speeches given by Lindbergh and Trump, but the two coincidentally echo each other in Roth’s The Plot Against America, wherein Roth is argued to envision the possible, horrendous consequences of an American president who cares about nothing but putting America first. Unlike President Bush, who was an interventionist, President Trump is as much an isolationist as Roth’s Lindbergh and his historical counterpart, both of whom evoke the reader’s fear of an unrealized past and a worrisome future. In “Donald Trump and The Plot Against America,” for example, Scott Galupo (2017) claims that Roth has “predicted the presidency of Donald Trump” in his novel. He remarks, “our greatest living novelist foresaw, in startling granular detail, how a demagogic celebrity like Trump could come to power.”12 Noting how The Plot Against America “foretell[s] the rise of Trump,” Danuta Kean (2017) of the Guardian likewise regards Roth as a writer who “seem[s] to have had the measure of the new US president many years ahead of time.” In his 2017 e-mails to the New Yorker, however, Roth insists Trump is “just a con artist,” whereas Lindbergh, “despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero” (qtd. in Thurman 2017). In his interview with Charles McGrath, Roth (2018) again stresses “the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump.” Even so, President Trump’s nostalgic evocation of “America First,” which was formerly proposed by Lindbergh as an initiative to condemn American Jews, becomes especially alarming. It shows that Trump is either ignorant of the history of anti-­ Semitism or, more dreadfully, deliberately provoking ethnic hatred, confrontation, and conflict. As Lee (2016) warns, “people with iniquitous intentions obviously do not mean to remember or to seek historical truth, but instead, they take advantage of memories to realize their ambition and fond illusion” (170–171). When President Trump vows to put America first and chooses to forget the anti-Semitic past during WWII or even distorts historical reality, Roth’s The Plot Against America at once serves as a mnemonic to keep that past alive and a warning to some of his contemporary readers, fearful of what might become of the U.S. to be governed from Trump’s white supremacist viewpoint.



Ordinary Practices of Resistance If perpetual fear is rendered a habit that is gradually acquired through frequent and repeated anticipation of the home under threat by expected and unexpected national policies, Roth’s novel also suggests ways for ordinary individuals to change the habit or to counteract its effects. It draws the reader’s attention to other habits that form the texture of everyday life. Philip’s waxing and waning enthusiasm for stamp collecting and his daily care for Alvin’s stump are especially worth noting. The habit of collecting stamps and performing family caregiving acts may sound mundane as though they were matters of no or little significance, but in Roth’s novel, they offer considerable insights into what Veena Das (2012) terms “ordinary ethics.” By “ordinary ethics,” Das means “thinking of the ethical as a dimension of everyday life in which we are not aspiring to escape the ordinary but rather to descend into it as a way of becoming moral subjects” (134). Das emphasizes “the importance of habit as the site on which the working of ordinary ethics can be traced” (142). Resonating with Das, Roth does not reduce Philip’s habitual actions of collecting stamps and caring for stumps to simple behavior. Rather, to illuminate “what it takes to allow life to be renewed, to achieve the everyday, under conditions of . . . catastrophic violence that erode the very possibility of the ordinary” (Das 2012, 134), Roth foregrounds Philip’s habit of collecting stamps, which is cultivated under the influence of Roosevelt, an avid philatelist, and broken with Lindbergh’s announcement of candidacy for president, as well as his effort to renew the everyday life under conditions of violent anti-Semitism by becoming a caregiver and recognizing his moral responsibilities for others. Not many critics have noticed the importance of stamp collecting in The Plot Against America. Joshua Kotzin is a rare exception. In his article, Kotzin refers to two stamps that are issued in 1932 and 1927 to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Arbor Day and Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, respectively. He analyzes these two stamps at great length because “both are explicitly described as commemorative stamps and thus reside at the nexus of history and national identity” (Kotzin 2013, 49). The Arbor Day stamp shows “two children planting a tree,” and therefore, “represents a beginning, a birth” (Kotzin 2013, 47). In the novel, the stamp commemorating Lindbergh’s famous 1927 solo transatlantic flight has a symbolic meaning of birth as well. It is partly because the stamp is a ten-cent airmail, “leading inexorably to national declarations of



power, to the viability of the national airmail system” (Kotzin 2013, 50), and partly because Lindbergh’s completion of the solo flight coincides with “the day in the spring of 1927 that my mother discovered herself to be pregnant with my older brother,” as Philip recalls (Roth 2004b, 5). Considering the symbolism of birth associated with Lindbergh’s solo flight, Kotzin argues that “this introduction of the figure of Lindbergh in the novel suggests his interest to Roth for more reasons than simply his anti-Semitism” (49). Kotzin has a valid point here, but his attention is paid simply to the symbolic meanings associated with the Lindbergh commemorative stamp. If Philip’s collecting stamps is understood as a habit that is practiced in everyday life, the formation and collapse of the habit appears to be a response to the American society’s anti-Semitism and isolationism in the 1940s. Plainly, some may argue that a habit or a ritual is “an unthinking, reflexive action” (Steege et al. 2008, 368). In Critique of Everyday Life, French sociologist Henri Lefebvre (1991), for example, famously conceptualizes and formulates the critique of everyday life under capitalism. According to Shuli Chang (2009), Lefebvre’s critique is targeted specifically at “the vulgarity, commercialism, and regularity of post-war life in Europe,” aiming to “catch a glimpse of ‘extraordinary’ creativity in daily routines, the variation and dissonance out of common boredom” (23).13 Instead of seeking extraordinary moments in everyday life so as to break the cultivated habit of fear, Roth’s The Plot Against America paradoxically proposes the activism of the everyday by giving prominence to “the positive and proactive meaning of daily life practice which has long been considered stereotypically reflexive and taken for granted” (Chang 2009, 23–24). First of all, Philip’s habit of collecting stamps is not a result of boredom. Rather, it is inspired by his admiration for President Roosevelt, who supports the American entry into WWII and strives to end the Holocaust in Europe. On the first page of the novel the narrator introduces himself, at the age of seven, as “an embryonic stamp collector inspired like millions of kids by the country’s foremost philatelist, President Roosevelt” (Roth 2004b, 1). When Philip’s stamp collecting becomes a habit, it may at first seem dull and tedious, but it in fact bespeaks the stability of American society under the leadership of President Roosevelt, who provides the American people with a safe and peaceful environment wherein they can cultivate daily habits. His regular life that supports a simple hobby like collecting stamps comes to an end “on that terrible Saturday” when Lindbergh officially announces his candidacy (22). Philip



recalls his fear of not being able to collect stamps any more: “[A]ll I could think of . . . were the old stamped envelopes and the embossed stamps on the prepaid newspaper wrappers . . . and how I would now have no chance ‘to obtain’ them because I was a Jew” (22). Philip’s memory of Lindbergh’s presidency is accompanied by a rise in anti-Semitism, leading to the conflict between his Jewish identity and stamp collecting. Philip’s stamp collection also indirectly symbolizes his nostalgia for the past and his vision of the future. In addition to the two aforementioned commemorative stamps, in Philip’s collection are two other notable stamps, on one of which “was Booker T. Washington, the first Negro to appear on an American stamp” (23). The other is “the brown 1938 one-­ and-­a-half-cent stamp that pictured the first president’s wife in profile” (74). Even though Philip does not have the 1902 stamp that a tour guide in Washington D.C. tells him about, he knows that it is “the first stamp ever to show an American woman” (74). The two stamps that show Booker T. Washington and Martha Washington represent young Philip’s ideal of Americanness: democracy, liberty, and equality. Immersing himself in the ideal, Philip suddenly feels like American again, as if “all the complications of our being a Jewish family in Lindbergh’s Washington simply vanished” (74). In the past before Lindbergh’s presidency, Philip remembers, “at the start of an assembly program, you rose to your feet and sang the national anthem, giving it everything you had” (74). The action of singing “the national anthem” signifies Philip’s loyalty to and identification with the U.S., but the nation he trusted exists only in his memories. When he first obtained the Booker T. Washington, it gave him hope he would see the first Jew on an American stamp in the near future. American society has, however, made progress at such a slow pace that it took twenty-six years for the first Jew, Einstein, to appear on an American stamp (23). If, as Roth’s novel suggests, it has not been easy for Jewish Americans to be accepted by American society, it remains arguable whether members of other ethnic groups will share in the bright future President Trump has promised as a strong advocate of “America first.” In The Plot Against America, stamps are everyday objects through which memories of the good old days are evoked. They also vividly embody Philip’s fear of and struggle against anti-Semitism. In the novel, Philip’s fear is materialized in different nightmares he has about losing his stamps. In one of the nightmares, when he picks up the stamp album dropped on the way to Earl’s, he is “stunned” to find, in his twelve 1932 Washington Bicentennials, the portraits of Washington are all replaced by Hitler, and



“on the ribbon beneath each portrait . . . the name lettered across the ribbon was ‘Hitler’” (43). Falling “out of the bed,” Philip at first feels relieved to be awakened from the nightmare, but when he “look[s] next at the album’s facing page to see what, if anything, had happened to my 1934 National Parks set of ten,” he is shocked (43). He sees that “across everything in America that was the bluest and the greenest and the whitest and to be preserved forever in these pristine reservations, was printed a black swastika” (43). This nightmare within a nightmare that the narrator describes in detail very early on in the novel foreshadows the nightmarish reality in which Philip and all the other Jews are trapped. Just as, in his dream, Hitler’s name and portrait replace Washington’s, the U.S. ruled by Lindbergh turns out to be nothing but a derivative of Hitler’s Europe. Shostak (2011b) thus views “Philip’s prized stamp collection” as a symbol of his “innocent dream of America” and the nightmare as the “vanish[ing]” dream (112). Not only does the stamp collection function as an “ideal” (Shostak 2011b, 112) that Philip pursues, but the habit of collecting stamps is also an individualized practice of everyday life. Through the practice of collecting stamps, Philip realizes his admiration for President Roosevelt, deepens his friendship with Earl, and becomes acquainted with American history. The series of nightmares presented at the beginning of the novel show how Philip’s life begins its descent into the chaos that ensues after the presidential election. In 1942, a year after Lindbergh’s ascendancy to the presidency in Roth’s novel, young Philip runs away from home, hoping to live in an orphanage and thereby escape the troubles resulting from his being a Jew. The only thing he cannot leave behind is his stamp album because, for Philip, stamps are as precious as life. He cannot bear the thought of his “album ever being broken up or thrown out or, worst of all, given away wholly intact to another,” so he takes it with him (233). On his way toward the orphanage grounds, he is accidentally kicked in the head by a horse and is found unconscious and bleeding by Seldon. When he wakes up in a hospital, he is devastated “because my stamp album, my greatest treasure, that which I could not live without, was gone” (235). To some extent, both Philip’s running away from home and the loss of his stamp album are the consequences of anti-Semitism. As discussed previously, during Lindbergh’s presidency, anti-Semitic government policies uproot hundreds of Jewish boys. Although Philip is not forced to leave home, as Seldon and his mother are, he determines “to resist a disaster our family and our friends could no longer elude and might not survive” by erasing



his Jewish identity and becoming nobody (232). As the adult narrator recalls, “I wanted nothing to do with history. I wanted to be a boy on the smallest scale possible. I wanted to be an orphan” (233). Having lost his self-identity echoes the loss of the stamp album, which is “[g]one and irreplaceable. Like—and utterly unlike—losing a leg” (235). Philip’s comparison of the loss of the stamp album to the loss of a leg exemplifies how one’s life and identity can both be disrupted when one’s habitual routine is broken. “Losing a leg” may be a metaphor that the novel’s narrator utilizes to describe young Philip’s utter devastation after losing his stamp album. Losing a leg is, however, a cruel reality that Philip’s orphaned cousin, Alvin, has to live with. It is a painful sacrifice Alvin has made after leaving home to fight in Canada against Nazi Germany. Philip clearly remembers the first day Alvin returns home from Canada. He has “never before seen anyone so skeletal or so dejected” as Alvin, whose “left trouser leg dropped straight down from the knee” because his “[s]tump broke down” (127, 129). Having lost his parents in his youth, Alvin returns from Canada to live with Philip’s family in Newark and shares Philip’s room. Not until the fourth night does Philip see Alvin’s stump and prosthetic leg because “[o]n the first three nights Alvin had been careful to change into his pajamas in the bathroom and then to hop back to hang his clothes in the closet” (136). These daily details stored in the adult narrator’s memory exhibit Alvin’s strong sense of shame after losing his left leg. His broken sense of self is reflected in his “stump,” which, as the narrator describes, is “the blunt remnant of something whole that belonged there and once had been there” (136). Comparing young Philip’s stamps with Alvin’s stump, Shostak (2011b) contends, “If his stamps are the ideal, Philip’s cousin Alvin’s amputated stump, the result of his defiant entry into World War II, is the real” (112). Shostak persuasively argues that “[t]he stump connotes inevitable suffering, mortality, and Alvin’s participation within the public sphere—it is the wound of history” (2011b, 112). Indeed, unlike Philip’s father, who passively resists by verbally attacking Lindbergh with his friends at home, Alvin has chosen to join the war. However, his loss of a leg cannot change the reality of Lindbergh’s ruling the U.S. and the atrocities perpetrated against innocent Jews. Alvin resents his own powerlessness, as evidenced by his shouting at Philip’s father: “The Jews? I wrecked my life for the Jews! . . . And look, look, Uncle Fucking Disaster—I have no fucking leg!” (297). In The Plot Against America, both Philip’s stamps



and Alvin’s stump mark ordinary people’s struggle and impotence when facing changes over which they have no control. No matter how their life is changed by external forces, Philip and other Jews in the novel manage to keep their life in order. This can be seen in Philip’s learning to care for Alvin’s stump and prosthetic leg. Even though Philip has never lived with disabled people before, and Alvin’s moving into his room could be seen as an imposition, he is empathetic and becomes Alvin’s primary caretaker until Alvin can live independently. After repeated practice, in less than a week Philip learns to bandage Alvin’s stump, “without again throwing up,” and Alvin “hadn’t once to complain of the bandaging being too loose or too tight” (142). Doing it “nightly” as an everyday routine, Philip receives from Alvin “the Canadian medal that he’d been awarded ‘for performance under exceptional circumstances’” (145). Indeed, losing his treasured stamp album and caring for an amputated stump are exceptional circumstances not commonly seen in a child’s everyday life, but they become changes that young Philip has to get used to during Lindbergh’s presidency. Forced to adjust to these exceptional changes, Philip chooses not to succumb to the status quo. If losing the stamp album connotes Philip’s powerlessness in the face of rampant anti-­ Semitism, caring for Alvin’s leg attests his sense of moral responsibility for others. After Alvin leaves home for work, Philip’s playmate Seldon moves back from Kentucky to live with Philip’s family in Newark because his mother has been killed in an anti-Semitic riot, leaving him a homeless orphan. Looking at Seldon, who shares a room with him, Philip thinks to himself, “There was no stump for me to care for this time. The boy himself was the stump, and until he was taken to live with his mother’s married sister in Brooklyn ten months later, I was the prosthesis” (362). If “stumps” are the emblem of broken families and limited, disordered life under the impact of the grand narrative of “America first,” the symbolic “prosthesis” that Philip talks about here represents Jewish people’s endeavor to help each other, in order to complete their lives, rebuild homes, and bring order and peace to their everyday life.

Conclusion Roth’s The Plot Against America records in detail the everyday life of Philip’s family in terms, especially, of their cultivating the habit of fear as a way of looking at homes and neighborhood, and their learning to acquire other habits to reduce the fear that is to emerge at any time with the



Lindbergh administration’s anti-Semitic policy. The novel’s alternate history concurrently reconstructs the American history of the 1940s from below, and offers perspective into the historical truth of anti-Semitism that has often been left out of official history. As Lee (2016) contends, “even if memories are broken, complicated and malleable, critically summoning, ordering, and reconstructing memoires is itself a form of activism as well as an inevitable act of ethical responsibility” (171). Although Roth’s novel presents an alternate history that contains fictional elements, it truthfully depicts anti-Semitism based on his personal memories of childhood. Its ultimate aim is humane consideration of the plight of American Jews, and, through a realistic portrayal of ordinary people’s daily lives, it articulates the complexity of history. Roth’s novel shows that any history from below is always counterhistory that resists the grand narrative of “America first” because, as opposed to the homogenous and single-truth discourse of national history, the histories of the everyday foreground humanism and multiculturalism. Roth succeeds in combining memory with the activism of the everyday by featuring the American Jewish people’s limitations and agency, as seen respectively in their everyday fear and acts of resistance on a small scale. Preserving memories of anti-Semitism and evoking perpetual fear through alternate history, Roth’s novel urges its readers to think about the problem of white supremacy that continues, almost persistently, to dominate American society. In fictional Lindbergh, many readers see President Trump and Bush. The contemporary reader’s response manifests the effectiveness of the novel as a tool of memory activism. Although Roth’s novel is primarily concerned with how individual memory of the past functions as a tool to mediate history, it also provides a frame, as a form of literary representation and imagination, to transmit personal memories culturally and to supply critical literacy with which to rethink collective memory and identity in terms of active citizenship. Featuring the American Jewish people’s limited agency in the face of the white supremacist policies often linked to an “America First” attitude, Roth specifically invites his readers to ponder the role that they play in creating their own history, either by becoming supporters of the “America First” policy or ideology, like Philip’s pro-Lindbergh aunt and Rabbi Bengelsdorf, or by making every effort to help themselves and others, like Philip’s father’s quitting his job, Alvin’s leaving Newark to fight in Canada, and Philip’s caring for Alvin’s crippled leg and keeping orphaned Seldon company. Roth’s activism of the everyday exemplifies the possibility of ordinary ethics as a starting point from which to critically rethink and challenge the grand narrative of “America First,” then and now.



Notes 1. Art Spiegelman is another award-winning Jewish American writer whose 9/11 novel makes reference to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. His graphic novel, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), represents the panic and fear of the first-person narrator-protagonist “I,”’ who, living on the outskirts of Ground Zero, hears the collapse of the Twin Towers and rushes with his wife to their daughter’s school below the burning towers. The air in Lower Manhattan triggers the narrator’s memories of “my father trying to describe what the smoke in Auschwitz smelled like,” but “[t]he closest he got was telling me it was ‘indescribable’” (3). The Holocaust analogy is evident in the novel, but it does not signal that 9/11 is comparable to the Holocaust in terms of the scope, cause, or nature of the event. Rather, Spiegelman draws the parallel to pinpoint both events as unspeakable trauma. As David Hajdu (2004) aptly puts it, “Spiegelman clearly sees Sept. 11 as his Holocaust (or the nearest thing his generation will have to personal experience with anything remotely correlative), and in ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ [he] makes explicit parallels between the events without diminishing the incomparable evil of the death camps” (13). Kristiaan Versluys (2009) further suggests “consider[ing] In the Shadow of No Towers a sequel to Maus” (63). To some extent, In the Shadow of No Towers suggests that trauma serves as a bridge to link the survivors of the Holocaust and the New  Yorkers traumatized by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. 2. In “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” Roth (2004a) explains how he conceived the nexus event for his novel in December 2000 while reading Arthur Schlesinger’s autobiography, in which “Schlesinger notes that there were some Republican isolationists who wanted to run Lindbergh for president in 1940.” This piece of information that he learned from Schlesinger spurred Roth’s counterfactual thinking, “what if they had?” and became the premise that drives the plot of his 2004 alternate history novel. 3. Since his first novel, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), till his retirement in 2010, Roth published more than thirty novels. In “Roth’s America,” Debra Shostak (2011a) divides the trajectory of Roth’s writing into three periods. In the first period, from the 1950s to the late 1960s, Roth’s works are conventionally realistic and are concerned with “the development of an autonomous selfhood” (5). From the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, his works are “typified by generic experiments, frequently metafictional” (5). Finally, in the third phase, to which The Plot Against America belongs, Roth moves “beyond the singular focus on the self that dominates the fiction of the 1970s and 1980s” and offers “intricate contemplation of how



his subjects are situated both in personal memory and in the ideological networks of American history” (5). 4. To avoid confusion, I will use “Roth” hereafter when I refer to the author of the novel, and “Philip” for the novel’s protagonist. 5. For more detailed discussions on the surge in white supremacy in the Trump era, see Shugerman 2018 and Beckett 2017. Both Shugerman and Beckett cite the May torch rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as an example of increasingly violent white supremacist provocations. Shugerman furthermore comments on Trump’s inauguration speech and controversial promises to stop Muslims and undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. 6. According to Michael Wood (2004) in his review of The Plot Against America, “In recent years, Philip Roth (or his publisher) has taken to grouping most of his novels according to their visible narrator.” There are, for example, “Kepesh books,” “Zuckerman books,” “Roth books,” and “other books.” In the “Roth books,” Roth uses his own name as the name of the protagonist within a fictional as well as a non-fictional work. There are five Roth books, which are The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography (1988), Deception: A Novel (1990), Patrimony: A True Story (1991), Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993), and The Plot Against America (2004). 7. Lee’s book is written originally in Chinese. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the translations are my own. 8. For more details on a post-9/11 reading of the novel, see Shostak 2011b, 112; Kaplan 2015, 117, 119, 121; Shiffman 2009, 61–62; Lewis 2008, 247; and Kellman 2008, 113. 9. The reviews that Kellman examines were published mostly in September and October 2004, in various newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, New York Magazine, Newsweek, San Francisco Chronicle, and Washington Post. 10. According to Lewis (2008), distorted dreams, stamps, and stumps function as “prosthetic” or “metonymic” tropes “for the novel’s connection to a 9/11 framework,” allowing Roth to project the traumatic impacts of 9/11 onto his fictional screen and to “repeatedly and variously puts his reader on post-9/11 alert” (254, 246). 11. On the one hand, for example, Kellman (2008) agrees with the novel’s earlier reviewers that “[a] reader opening the novel in September 2004 might well have thought that its narrator, ‘Philip Roth,’ was evoking the traumatized post-9/11 world, rather than the period 1940–1942 in which the events of the story take place” (113). On the other hand, he notices differences between Roth’s Lindbergh and President Bush. Whereas the former is conspicuously anti-Semitic, “there is no evidence that President



Bush, who appointed Jews to high positions in his admiration, was antiSemitic” (119). In contrast to Roth’s fictionalized Lindbergh and his historical counterpart, who was an isolationist in his position on international relations, Bush “was no champion of pulling up the drawbridge on Fortress America” and “pursued an aggressive foreign policy” (119). 12. Unfortunately, Roth passed away on May 22, 2018, at the age of eighty-five. 13. Chang’s article is written originally in Chinese. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the translations are my own.

References Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004. Beckett, Lois. “The Year in Nazi Propaganda: Images of White Supremacy in Trump’s America.” Guardian. 27 Dec. 2017. Web. 19 Feb. 2020. . Brewer, John. “Microhistory and the Histories of Everyday Life.” Cultural and Social History 7.1 (2010): 87–109. Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. London: 4th Estate, 2007. Chang, Shuli. “Richang shenghuo yanjiu” [“A Study of Everyday Life”]. Humanities and Social Sciences Newsletter Quarterly 10.3 (2009): 22–28. Das, Veena. “Ordinary Ethics.” A Companion to Moral Anthropology. Ed. Didier Fassin. Malden: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 133–49. Gallagher, Catherine. “Telling It like It Wasn’t.” Pacific Coast Philosophy 45 (2010): 12–25. Galupo, Scott. “Donald Trump and The Plot Against America.” Week. 4 Jan. 2017. Web. 8 Jan. 2020. . Gasztold, Brygida. “Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union as a 9/11 Novel.” Ideological Battlegrounds—Constructions of Us and Them Before and After 9/11. Ed. Joanna Witkowska and Uwe Zagratzki. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014. 70–83. Gross, Andrew S. “It Might Have Happened Here: Real Anti-Semitism, Fake History, and Remembering the Present.” Amerikastudien/American Studies 55.3 (2010): 409–27. Hajdu, David. “Homeland Insecurity.” Rev. of In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman. New York Times Book Review 12 Sept. 2004: 13–14. Hellekson, Karen. The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time. Kent: Kent State UP, 2001. Johnston, Ron, James Forrest, and Michael Poulsen. “The Ethnic Geography of EthniCities: The ‘American Model’ and Residential Concentration in London.” Ethnicities 2.2 (2002): 209–35.



Kaplan, Brett Ashley. Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth. New  York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Kean, Danuta. “Prescient about the President: Which Writers Can Help Us Read Trump?” Guardian. 24 Jan. 2017. Web. 24 Jan. 2020. . Kellman, Steven G. “It Is Happening Here: The Plot Against America and the Political Moment.” Philip Roth Studies 4.2 (2008): 113–23. Kotzin, Joshua. “The Pilot against America: Stamps, Airmail and History in The Plot Against America.” Philip Roth Studies 9.2 (2013): 45–55. Lee, Yu-cheng. Jiyi [Memory]. Taipei: Asianculture, 2016. Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of Everyday Life. London: Verso, 1991. Lewis, Charles. “Real Planes and Imaginary Towers: Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America as 9/11 Prosthetic Screen.” Literature After 9/11. Ed. Ann Keniston and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn. New York: Routledge, 2008. 246–60. Lüdtke, Alf. “What Is the History of Everyday Life and Who Are Its Practitioners?” Introduction. Trans. William Templer. The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995. 3–40. Michaels, Walter Benn. “Plots Against America: Neoliberalism and Antiracism.” American Literary History 18.2 (2006): 288–302. Rosenfeld, Gavriel. “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’: Reflections on the Function of Alternate History.” History and Theory 41 (2002): 91–103. ———. The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Roth, Philip. The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography. 1988. New  York: Penguin Books, 1989. ———. “The Story Behind The Plot Against America.” New York Times. New York Times, 19 Sept. 2004a. Web. 8 Jan. 2020. . ———. The Plot Against America. Boston: Houghton, 2004b. ———. Interview with Charles McGrath. “No Longer Writing, Philip Roth Still Has Plenty to Say.” New York Times. New York Times, 16 Jan. 2018. Web. 1 Feb. 2020. . Scanlan, Margaret. “Strange Times to be a Jew: Alternative History after 9/11.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 57.3 (2011): 503–31. Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. “What Almost Was: The Politics of the Contemporary Alternate History Novel.” American Studies 50.3/4 (2009): 63–83. Shiffman, Dan. “The Plot Against America and History Post-9/11.” Philip Roth Studies 5.1 (2009): 61–73.



Shostak, Debra. “Roth’s America.” Introduction. Philip Roth: American Pastoral, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America. Ed. Shostak. New  York: Continuum, 2011a. 1–14. ———. “The Plot Against America: Introduction.” Philip Roth: American Pastoral, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America. Ed. Shostak. New York: Continuum, 2011b. 111–14. Shugerman, Emily. “White Supremacy Still Casts a Shadow over the Trump Presidency after a Year of Controversy.” Independent. 20 Jan. 2018. Web. 8 Jan. 2020. . Spiegelman, Art. In the Shadow of No Towers. New Yok: Pantheon Books, 2004. Steege, Paul, Andrew Stuart Bergerson, Maureen Healy, and Pamela E.  Swett. “The History of Everyday Life: A Second Chapter.” The Journal of Modern History 80.2 (2008): 358–78. Svendsen, Lars. A Philosophy of Fear. Trans. John Irons. London: Reaktion Books, 2008. Thurman, Judith. “Philip Roth E-Mails on Trump.” New Yorker. 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Jan. 2020. . Trump, Donald. Inaugural Address. White House, Washington D.C. 20 Jan. 2017. Web. 1 Jan. 2020. . Versluys, Kristiaan. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. New  York: Columbia UP, 2009. Wood, Michael. “Just Folks.” London Review of Books 26.21 (2004): 3–6. Web. 25 Apr. 2020. . Zunz, Olivier, John Bodnar, and Stephan Thernstrom. “American History and the Changing Meaning of Assimilation.” Journal of American Ethnic History 4.2 (1985): 53–84.


Neo-Internment Narratives: Post-9/11, Cross-racial, and Intergenerational Memories

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America ends with history resuming its normal course when Franklin Roosevelt is reelected to the presidency, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. enters WWII. Many Japanese American internment narratives begin with U.S. declaration of war on Japan. In actual history, what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII under President Roosevelt’s leadership bears a striking resemblance to what might have happened to American Jews, as Roth imagines in his alternate history novel, had the anti-Semite, Charles Lindbergh, been elected President in 1940. On December 7, 1941, Japan assaulted Pearl Harbor, causing people of Japanese descent to suddenly be deemed a potential threat to U.S. national security, with some being classified as enemy aliens likely to spy or even commit sabotage for the Japanese government. On February 19, 1942, to prevent espionage on American shores, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing mass evictions of those with Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and the incarceration of both the Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) and Nisei (U.S.-born second-generation Japanese Americans). More than 120,000 people were incarcerated in ten isolated internment camps euphemistically called “relocation centers.”1 The majority of the internees were American citizens. From 1942 through the present, Japanese American internment narratives have proliferated and become an essential part of Asian American studies. Four periods of internment memory are commonly noted. The © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




first period, as Gayle K. Sato (2009) points out, “comprises the literature written and published within the camps themselves” (454). Written during wartime and published a bit later in 1946, Nisei artist Miné Okubo’s graphic memoir Citizen 13660, for example, proudly claims the title of “the first personal documentation of the evacuation story” (Okubo [1946] 2002, ix). In the second period, spanning the years from 1945 to 1960s, most former Japanese American internees remained reticent about the past and strove for assimilation into mainstream white American society. In the post-war era, the “culture of silence” was formed in the U.S. and other countries in the belief that reintegration and democratization “could proceed faster and more effectively” if people, instead of immersing in “an atmosphere of mutual distrust and accusations,” left the painful and shameful past behind and moved forward (Assmann 2012, 57). Even if some victims turned their internment experiences into words, their works “went largely unread until the movement era” (Sato 2009, 454), as exemplified by John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957). From the 1960s through the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese American internment narratives entered the third phase, commonly recognized as the era of “breaking silence” (Sato 2009, 454). During this period, the civil rights movement and ethnic pride movements such as the Asian American Movement stimulated Japanese Americans to launch the Redress Movement in an effort to obtain a national apology, reparations from the federal government, and restitution of civil rights. In response, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was established in 1980 to investigate the causes and consequences of the mass exclusion and incarceration. Sadly, by the 1980s, many of the former internees, especially the Issei, were deceased, prompting increasing numbers of Nisei to speak out and testify, as witnesses and survivors, about the internment.2 Fearing the past would be forgotten with the passage of time, special efforts were put into writing and publishing internment narratives. Prominent works produced during this period include Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s 1973 memoir Farewell to Manzanar (co-authored with her husband), as well as Yoshiko Uchida’s 1982 autobiography Desert Exile. Some previously overlooked publications were also reprinted to draw public attention to this dark chapter in American history. Important as this movement was to right the wrongs and pursue belated justice in the redress era, more relevant to the present study is the internment memory boom in the fourth and current period. It is generally agreed that the fourth period began in 2001, or more specifically, with the



terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Sato, for example, designates the current period expressly as “post-redress, post-9/11” (2009, 455). Yasuyo Komatsu (2013) likewise points to the new phase beginning with the publication of an increasing number of internment novels “after 9/11” (93). It is without doubt important to explore why people started again to invoke memories of Japanese American internment after 9/11 and how post-9/11 internment memory differs from that of earlier periods. These questions should be approached cautiously, however, to avoid the trap of making the naïve assumption that “9/11 changed everything,” a position advanced by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.3 Alternatively, some scholars and reviewers have attempted analogical extensions of the Japanese American internment memories to “symbolic memories of discrimination and injustice shared by all ethnic minorities after 9/11” (Komatsu 2013, 100). However, it is equally crucial that we use historical analogies with care and consider whether the author is overtly commenting on the post-9/11 circumstances through the lens of WWII internment memories. If not, and there are no allusions to, or inclusion of the events of 9/11 and their aftermath in the internment narrative, in what sense can the reconstructed Japanese American internment memory be deemed “post-9/11”? Is post-redress internment memory necessarily post-9/11? If Japanese American internment narratives published in the first two decades of the twenty-first century are “post-redress,” that is, not primarily focused on bearing witness, providing testimonials, or obtaining official apology and reparations, what functions do they serve for Japanese Americans? While agreeing with Sato and Komatsu on the emergence of post-9/11 internment memory, this chapter views the internment narratives published in the early twenty-first century as “neo-internment narratives.” Rather than overemphasizing 9/11 as a history-making event, after which everything is different, I use the hyphenated term “neo-internment” to highlight both the continuity and disjunction of narratives that challenge the historiography of internment while revisiting and reworking the representation of internment in earlier periods. In particular, to address the questions raised previously about post-redress, post-9/11 internment memory, I examine the works of both well-known and new writers’ first internment novels, focusing on Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine (2002), Perry Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar (2002), and Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower (2006). These three novels are studied in this chapter as neo-internment narratives not simply because they are



recently published or because they are the authors’ first attempt at creating internment fiction. More importantly, they revitalize internment narratives by engaging in the following aspects: (1) the impact of the emergent present, including the post-9/11 situations, on the reconstruction and rethinking of Japanese American internment; (2) the transnational perspective of internment history and interracial relationships; and (3) the postmemory of the generation born after WWII. I probe into the post-9/11 and post-redress internment memories that are reconstructed or invoked by these narratives using a critical lens attentive to the dynamics of memory at the intersection of the past and the present. In doing so, I contend that Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata’s neo-internment narratives illuminate cross-racial and intergenerational memories of the WWII Japanese American internment, as well as other events of mass racial violence in American history.

Making an Old Story New Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata use history to create their first stories of Japanese American internment. When the Emperor Was Divine is Otsuka’s debut novel, critically acclaimed as “the first Japanese American-authored novel on the internment experience to be widely read and to have generated a large-scale collective dialogue about its subject” (Gauthier 2011, 165). Published in the same year as When the Emperor Was Divine, Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar is also a debut novel. Weedflower, winner of the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and PEN USA Award, is Kadohata’s second children’s book and first dealing directly with the internment.4 When the Emperor Was Divine and Weedflower are historical novels set largely during WWII, whereas 21st Century Manzanar is a combination of historical fiction and science fiction set in a dystopian near future in which the history of Japanese American internment is reenacted in an economic war against Japan. At first sight all three seem to share continuity with WWII internment narrative conventions, using standard plot lines to depict the journey of Japanese Americans to the camps and their subsequent struggle to survive or escape. In When the Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka narrates the internment story of one Japanese American family: father, mother, ten-year-old daughter, and seven-year-old son, all of whom are unnamed. The novel starts with the issuance of Evacuation Order No. 19 in the spring of 1942, followed immediately by the mother and children’s forced removal from



their home in Berkeley to the assembly center at Tanforan and then to the desert camp in Topaz, Utah. In the meantime, the father, who is taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), is shuttled through various internment camps. As the novel comes to the end, the family finally reunite at their home in Berkeley after three years and five months of separation. Kadohata’s protagonist in Weedflower is a twelve-year-old Japanese American girl Sumiko, an orphan who, after losing her parents in a car accident, lives with her brother Takao, Jiichan (grandfather), and Uncle’s family on a flower farm in Southern California. The novel begins shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but most of the story takes place during WWII. After President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066, Uncle and Jiichan, like the father in Otsuka’s novel, are arrested by the FBI, and the rest of the family are eventually incarcerated at the Poston relocation center. The novel ends, after two years of internment, with Sumiko and her brother’s leaving the camp in the spring of 1944, when their Aunt takes a sewing job in a factory near Chicago, and her two cousins leave for basic training before joining the army. Albeit an apocalyptic novel set in an economic war against Japan that erupts into WWIII, Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar replays the history of Japanese American internment. In the imagined near future, the U.S. president reinstates Executive Order 9066, requiring all people of Japanese ancestry to return to Japan or be once again interned in camps. The novel follows the stories of three Sansei siblings—Kate, John, and David Takeda, who, at the onset of the novel, reside in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles. Before his own departure, David sees his sister Kate and her family off on a train to Manzanar, where their Issei grandparents and Nisei parents were interned during WWII. Before he reports to the camp, however, David learns from the news that white racists had beaten his brother to death. The internment camp is brutally run by a white supremacist director, Lilian Bunkum, whose solution to the Japanese problem is to mass sterilize all Japanese American males. Kate’s husband dies of a heart attack, and her son is killed in a riot against Lilian’s rule. In the end, the surviving family members escape from the camp with the assistance of David’s friends and Caucasian ex-wife. History records ten Japanese American internment camps used in WWII,5 and the three novels, despite their setting in three different camps (Topaz, Poston, and Manzanar), seem to tell the same old story of forced



evacuation, incarceration, and separation. And yet, a careful reading and comparison of their neo-internment narratives employing Alan Robinson’s interpretive lens of emplotment reveals that the past present, namely the narrative world that represents the past actuality of internment, is shaped by the author’s present norms, values, and hindsight. Robinson (2011) argues that a historical fiction writer does not simply adhere to historical truth but rather, in turning history into a story, “connects selected states, events and actions from the past into an emplotment,” which explains “how a significant transformation [comes] about” (x). In this way, the contemporary novelist makes an old story new. The transformation, in turn, reveals “historical truthfulness,” namely the novelist’s “open-ended and evolving relationship with past events and people” (Morris-Suzuki 2005, 27). Taking cues from Robinson, the third section of this chapter will explicate how Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata reconstruct the history of the WWII internment from the perspectives of different generations of Japanese Americans. It is not only the Japanese American novelists but also contemporary readers who must reinterpret the internment as part of a dynamic process that develops in response to their present experiences and needs, as well as the emergence of new events in their environment. In addition to causal relationship, historical analogies are usually invoked when past events are connected to current situations. Most would agree that “history teaches by analogy, shedding light on the likely consequences of comparable situations” (Kissinger 1994, 27), but even if historical analogies are useful in making sense of current events, there is always a risk of reducing history to an absolute and finite past in analogical reasoning. According to George Herbert Mead’s theories, the past can never be entirely independent of the present when we consider the relative and social character of time and space. Mead (2002) maintains that the ongoing, productive relation “of the event to its situation, of the organism to its environment, with their mutual dependence, brings us to relativity, and to the perspectives in which this appears in experience” (53). The relative perspectives brought about by the mutual dependence of past events and current situations suggest that the past illuminates the present, and vice versa. To understand how the present sheds light on the past that Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata revisit in their neo-internment narratives, it is essential to discern contemporary novelists’ and readers’ “distance experience” from the Issei and Nisei’s “contact experience” of the internment in the “immediate perceptual world” during WWII (Mead 2002, 65). Because contemporary



novelists and readers live in different environments, a “process of readjustment” must be initiated as the emergence of novel events informs their cognitive perception in understanding Japanese American internment (Mead 2002, 73). As I will illustrate in the following section, the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror have proven decisive in shaping contemporary novelists’ and readers’ interpretation of some historical events such as Japanese American internment. If we examine existing scholarship on novels by Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata, it quickly becomes apparent that more critical attention has been paid to the historical analogies between WWII and 9/11 or to the intersection of Japanese American internment and other forms of racial violence than to the intergenerational memories roused to foreground the traumatic impact of the internment on different generations of Japanese Americans. All three of them—post-9/11, cross-­ racial, and intergenerational memories—should, however, be taken into account when assessing the latest offshoot of internment narratives.

Post-9/11 Memory and Cross-racial Alliances It is common for policy makers and the mass media to use historical analogies to make sense of novel events. In the immediate wake of 9/11, the WWII analogy was utilized by the Bush administration to generate American resistance to al-Qaeda’s terrorist network and to help justify the War on Terror. On December 7, 2001, President George W. Bush commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in a speech drawing a parallel between the attack in 1941 and the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City, remarking: On December the 7th, 1941, the enemy attacked. . . . What happened at Pearl Harbor was the start of a long and terrible war for America. Yet, out of that surprise attack grew a steadfast resolve that made America freedom’s defender. And that mission—our great calling—continues to this hour, as the brave men and women of our military fight the forces of terror in Afghanistan and around the world. (Bush 2001)

In the days following the 9/11 attacks, the Pearl Harbor analog was repeatedly invoked in the mass media as well. In their research on the coverage of the 9/11 attacks in the newspapers of five countries, Robert Axelrod and Larissa Forster (2017) found 34 invocations of historical analogies to Pearl Harbor and 18 to WWII (13).6 Their findings suggest



that historical analogies were used in the mass media “to help the audience make sense of just a few features of the current situation” (Axelrod and Forster 2017, 19) rather than to “fulfil an ideological function” as they were utilized in policymaking “as a tool of trenchant ideologically informed policy justification” (Mumford 2015, 3). Even if Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are linked by analogy as both being shocking, violent assaults on American soil, the oversimplification of the analogy is both deceptive and dangerous, as it doesn’t take into account any of the complexity of their historical contexts, and thereby misleadingly encouraged xenophobia and triggered intense collective fear and anger in the wake of 9/11. In a similar vein, liberal opponents of the Bush Doctrine sought guidance from history and stimulated memories of the WWII Japanese American internment as a compelling historical analogy to the post-9/11 racial discrimination and hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans. Sato (2009) remarks that “[t]oday, more than 60 years after the event, Japanese American internment has acquired new meaning in light of the racial profiling, detention, and deportation of Arab and Muslim Americans following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States” (451). In Dirty Wars, John Beck (2009) notes that “9/11 has called forth not just the selective, enabling memories of Pearl Harbor and World War II but also the countermemories of internment and apocalyptic dread” (286). Josephine Park (2013) also points out that, while the parallel between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 has been conveniently drawn to “justify retaliation,” the comparison of the Japanese American internment to the detention of Arab Americans has also been employed to “decry injustice” (151). Both published in the shadow of 2002’s heated debates about the Bush administration’s formation of the Department of Homeland Security and major changes in foreign policy, Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine and Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar were well received by most contemporary reviewers and readers as timely warnings against the danger of overzealous policies. As a matter of fact, When the Emperor Was Divine was completed before the events of 9/11, but Otsuka was acutely aware of how her story about Japanese American internment would resonate in the post-9/11 world. She remarks on historical resonance in her BookBrowse interview: “Given what I know about the Japanese-Americans and WWII, it makes me nervous when Attorney General John Ashcroft starts rounding up hundreds of non-citizen suspects for questioning. Because this is how it all started in December of 1941” (Otsuka 2002). In another interview, she expresses



again her fear of historical repetition, as Miyake does in his novel, asserting that “it could happen again” although she “never thought this until Sept. 11” (Otsuka 2003b). Upon the novel’s publication in 2002, many reviewers and critics read Otsuka’s Japanese American internment story as a cautionary tale of the emergent present in the immediate wake of 9/11. The New  York Times reviewer Michael Upchurch, for example, begins his review of Otsuka’s novel with a comparison of Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and the Japanese American internment to the detention of Arab Americans (2002, 14). Another New York Times review is explicitly entitled “One Family’s Story of Persecution Resonates in the Post-9/11 World” (Freedman 2005). Park (2013) claims that such an analogy “has become a commonplace,” as “[t]he significance of enemy subjectivity is all too evident in post-9/11 America” (151, 137). Marni Gauthier (2011) likewise remarks on the similarity between “enemy aliens” and “enemy combatants” (153). Following 9/11, the meaning of the Japanese American internment has come to be not merely dependent on the event itself, the victims’ memory of it, or the “postmemory” of “the generation after” (Hirsch 2012, 5), as I will elaborate later, but is also subject to readjustment in reaction to new events that influence the reader’s interpretation. Despite being set in WWII, Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine invites its readers to juxtapose WWII Japanese American internment and post-9/11 racial profiling, detention, and deportation of Arab and Muslim Americans. Shea (2011) is convinced that one reason for the novel’s popularity with post-9/11 readers is “the parallels many see between what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the attitude toward Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11.” For example, in the novel’s last chapter, “Confession,” the “I”—presumably the father—speaks to the authoritative “you,” who could be either a judge in a court of law or the reader. The confessant admits to all the crimes he is accused of: “You were right. You were always right. It was me. I did it. I poisoned your reservoirs. . . . I spied on your naval yards. I spied on your neighbors. I spied on you . . .” (Otsuka [2002] 2003a, 140). After confessing his sins, the confessant suddenly cries out, “There. That’s it. I’ve said it. Now can I go?” (144). This last line “sarcastically reveals the confession to be a performance and subtly transforms the perpetrator’s testimony into a victim’s” (Liao 2018, 518). It thus serves as “a parody of the wartime suspicion that Japanese Americans are enemy aliens” (Liao 2018, 518). In Gauthier’s reading of the novel in the context of the War on Terror, the father’s false confession “casts an uncanny light” on “the egregious abuse



of state power,” including “the ongoing assault of civil liberties under the 2001 Patriot Act,” and “invoke[s], among other current comparisons, the May 2008 release of Sami al Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman and only journalist whom the United States imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly seven years, never charged and yet classified as an enemy combatant” (2011, 181). Post-9/11 readings of Otsuka’s historical novel indicate that Japanese American internment may be an old story told again and again by different writers over the past few decades, but nowadays it is less commonly viewed as simply a Japanese or Japanese American matter. It must be noted that, even if history provides lessons for the present, there is dynamic interaction between the past and the present that cannot be reduced to a single veneer of similarity. Post-9/11 events reignite contemporary readers’ interest in the WWII internment and provide a new frame of reference against which to reposition the event as a point of departure to address interracial relations and forge cross-racial alliances between Japanese, Muslim Americans, and other ethnic minorities in America’s multicultural and transnational society. In terms of forming cross-racial alliances, Otsuka’s employment of multiple perspectives allows her to tell everyone’s story. It is also nobody’s story because none of her characters are named, their identities reduced to government-issued numbers. This clearly sets When the Emperor Was Divine apart from other internment narratives, which invariably favor either first-person narration testimonial accounts or third-person historical fiction like Kadohata’s. The novel is composed of five chapters. The first three chapters are narrated respectively from the third-person perspective of the mother, girl, and boy, about their evacuation and incarceration. The fourth chapter recounts the family’s homecoming using the first-person plural “we” perspective, and the last one is the father’s first-person confession configured as perpetrator testimony. The shifts in perspectives offer the novel’s readers views from different sides of the internment story. In particular, the choral “we” narrative voice in the novel is so provocatively ambivalent that it brings into question the Manichean dualism forwarded by both the Bush and Roosevelt administrations, dividing world politics into those either “with us” or “with the terrorists/enemies.” The first-person plural is generally used in narratives to denote the actions of a group. In Shea’s profile feature article, Otsuka is quoted as saying that the “we” voice makes sense because “the Japanese are communal people, very group oriented” (Shea 2011). That being said, it does not mean that this “we” encapsulates only Japanese American collective subjectivity. Rather,



Brian Richardson (2006) claims that the first-person plural “we” voice “straddles the line between first and third person” (59), and Amit Marcus (2008) further contends that “[c]ertain ‘we’ fictional narratives overlap with second-person narratives in a way that alludes to the close connections between both types” (2). In other words, the pronoun “we” is semantically unstable. Due to its “referential ambiguities,” the first-person plural “we” can be employed in fictional narratives “in ways that defamiliarize perception and provoke readers to reconsider their automatized preconceptions of this collective label” (Marcus 2008, 3). For example, the first three chapters of the novel use the third-person pronoun to refer to Japanese Americans but the fourth chapter shifts to the first-person plural. Are the Japanese Americans “they” or “we”? In Marcus’s words, “according to which criteria moving from one group to another is possible” (2008, 3)? If the first-person plural “we” denotes the collective identity of Japanese Americans as a group, how do we explain why so many of the novel’s reviewers and critics view the “we” as the uncanny double of Arab and Muslim Americans? In terms of ethnic identity, Japanese and Arab or Muslim Americans belong to different groups, but they are subsumed under the collective label “we” because of their shared identity as the “enemy aliens” or “enemy combatants” unfairly persecuted by the American government. Sensing this commonality between the two ethnic groups, “you,” the reader whom the “I” addresses in the novel’s last chapter, should be provoked to inquire “what separates the ‘we’ group from other groups” (Marcus 2008, 3). When readers are emotionally drawn into the story that Otsuka tells about everybody and nobody, they may feel simultaneously included in the narratorial “we” and excluded from it if they perceive the “we” as referring to a particular group of “enemy aliens” and “enemy combatants.” The mixed feelings of affiliation and alienation create the potential of entering into an alliance with others and the pitfalls of labeling people as “enemy aliens” and “enemy combatants” based exclusively on their ethnic identities. Published alongside Otsuka’s novel in 2002, Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar was also mostly written before the September 11 attacks, so the inclusion of the events and their aftermath in the novel was most likely a last-minute addition. The addition, however, manifests Miyake’s conscious effort to readjust his cognition of the WWII Japanese American internment and the Re-Evacuation (ReVac) that the novel imagines to the post-9/11 situations that were emerging at the time of writing. Unlike Otsuka’s novel, which is set entirely in the pre-9/11 world, Miyake’s



novel contains explicit reference to the events of 9/11. For example, David knows that when post-9/11 Homeland Security paranoia morphs into xenophobic paranoia, Arab and Muslim Americans, like Japanese Americans during WWII, could not “travel safely at night” because “Joe Six-pack,” ordinary, working-class American men, could hardly “distinguish between pro-bin Laden pro-Taliban terrorist sympathizers and fellow capitalist swine who happened to be Arab Americans” (Miyake 2002, 50). Japanese American internment camps also provide a historical metaphor for the post-9/11 detention of Arab and Muslim Americans. Lillian, director of the Manzanar camp, is confidently assured that Manzanar, a “well-oiled machine,” is ready to “be converted from Japanese to Afghani or Arabic or whatever Homeland Security dictated” (368). In Chau Nguyen’s opinion, Lillian’s words demonstrate that, in the U.S., “ethnic scapegoating has become almost the norm in periods of social distress” (2003). Begoña Simal-González (2016) further contends that 21st Century Manzanar functions as “an astute warning against replicating such mistakes in the future” (178). Beck (2009) also views Miyake’s novel as “a prescient meditation on post-9/11 security anxieties” (287). The history of Japanese American internment is endowed with predictive powers in Miyake’s description of historical analogies. In addition to the implied analogy between Japanese and Muslim American detention, there is also a direct comparison between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and WWII in the novel. David’s comparison is, however, not the over-simplified, ideological analogical reasoning that the Bush administration has utilized to advocate the War on Terror. Rather, it attends to the needs of contextualization and calls into question the enemy’s identity. David is mindful that “[u]nlike September 11,” the enemy in WWII was “immediately identifiable” (Miyake 2002, 13). During WWII, “Western civilization” battled against “the Nazi party and the Japanese race,” and in the novel’s narrative present, with the emergence of WWIII, Japan is “the same economic foe, the same arch-enemy of the United States” (13). In other words, WWII and the imagined WWIII can each be seen as a “classic war,” namely “a direct and declared confrontation between two enemy states” (Derrida 2003, 100). Since, in the novel, Japan remains the same enemy of the U.S. in both WWII and WWIII, Japanese Americans—the visible racial minority within the U.S.—are labeled as enemy aliens and are subjected to exclusion, evacuation, and incarceration for military reasons, a typical military excuse to justify racial enmity. In contrast, as David knows, September 11 was not perpetrated by



any nation state, and when President Bush declares the War on Terror, he “is in fact incapable of identifying the enemy against whom he declares that he has declared war” (Derrida 2003, 101). Even if al-Qaeda is found responsible for the series of terrorist attacks, it is a transnational jihadist group and its central decision maker, Osama bin Laden, had been stateless since being disavowed by his own country, Saudi Arabia, in 1994. Transnational terrorism erases “the relationship between earth, terra, territory, and terror” maintained along national lines in traditional wars (Derrida 2003, 101). Unlike the transnational terrorists who, in an age of globalization, disguise themselves, infiltrate American society, and take advantage of techno science to unleash violence, Japanese Americans have been laden with transnationalism and unjustly labeled enemy aliens in times of national crisis. In Miyake’s novel, the events of 9/11 impact not only Arab and Muslim Americans but also Japanese Americans, as exemplified in their growing sense of unity and patriotism. Prior to 9/11, a generation gap had existed between the way surviving internees and their descendants regarded American wartime policy during WWII. It can be found in the relationship between Wayne, dubbed the “last activist” at Manzanar, and his father (Miyake 2002, 116). Wayne is one of the “[v]eterans of the early Asian American movement, of civil rights and Vietnam, the fight against the foreign takeover and bulldozing of Little Tokyo, the constitutional struggle for redress and pilgrimages to the ten World War II Japanese American concentration camps” (115). In stark contrast to his radically liberal son, Wayne’s father, “a decorated 442nd vet, staunch Republican, [and] VFW member,” strives to prove his loyalty by serving in the army and supporting the government’s domestic and foreign policy without questioning its legitimacy and necessity (116). Rather than being a rare exception, Wayne’s father is but one of the many Nisei who joined the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, and some of them, like Kate’s uncles, “won Purple Hearts and Silver Stars in Italy and France” and even “went to the Pacific as part of Military Intelligence” because they could speak Japanese (26). It is ironic that while Nisei soldiers were fighting against Japan and sacrificing themselves for the U.S., their families were forcefully removed from their homes and unjustly incarcerated in internment camps. Even more ironic is some of the Issei and Nisei’s continuous support of the American government after the war, as exemplified by Wayne’s father. It is thus not surprising that Wayne, the liberal activist, and his father, the conservative Republican, “didn’t agree on much politically” (116). And yet,



“the first attacks in September 2001” unite them (116). Following the terrorist attacks, both “flew American flags proudly on their houses, cars, fences” (116). 9/11, a date filled with loss and tragedy, not only challenges conventions of war but advances national unity to such an extent that the Sansei dissenters suspend their activism to show support of the U.S. War on Terror. The history of Japanese American internment is revisited and reconstructed in Miyake’s novel under the double impact of 9/11 and the War on Terror. The novel suggests that, to some extent, Japanese American evacuation and internment are overshadowed by the emerging threat of transnational terrorism. Jacques Derrida (2003) argues that 9/11 is a traumatic event, whose “[t]raumatism is produced by the future, by the to come, by the threat of the worst to come, rather than by an aggression that is ‘over and done with’” (97). The post-9/11 fear of “the worst to come” somehow downplays the traumatic effects of Japanese American internment. In the novel, although the ReVac is conspicuously as unjust and prejudicial as the WWII incarceration, Kate, who is detained with her family at Manzanar, draws comfort from the fact that, At least in here, they didn’t have to worry about terrorists. No tall buildings to plow an airplane into. No crowded sporting events to bomb. If a group of overzealous patriots wanted to pull a drive-by, they’d have to drive a couple hours into the desert. Then they might have to explain to the guards in the towers why they were shooting in their general direction. (Miyake 2002, 29–30)

Falling victim to both transnational terrorism and the war against Japan, Kate is at first so overwhelmed by paranoia that she accepts the injustice of Japanese American internment, seeing life behind barbed wire as safer than that outside, where terrorists may perpetrate attacks on anyone at any time. She is, however, proven wrong as the narrative unfolds. The Manzanar camp does not secure her from terrorism; rather, it subjects her and her family to Lillian’s brutal dictatorship. In the revolt against Lillian’s rule and the policy of mass sterilization, the activists that Kate’s son leads are identified as “terrorists” and shot to death by the American soldiers (258–59). At the beginning of the novel, Kate is scared of terrorists. In the end, however, she discovers that there is a fine line between terrorists and Japanese American activists.



21st Century Manzanar is Miyake’s conscious effort to juxtapose WWII and 9/11 and explore their impacts on U.S. interracial relations, as these examples have shown. In contrast, When the Emperor Was Divine is a WWII historical novel, but partly because of the post-9/11 political climate at the time of publication, as well as Otsuka’s emplotment, such as the carefully designed perpetrator testimony which foregrounds the enemy subjectivity and the use of multiple narrative voices to blur the division between “we” and “they,” numerous historical analogies between Japanese American internment and hate crimes against Arab or Muslim Americans have been drawn by critics. Like Otsuka’s novel, Kadohata’s Weedflower was also published in the wake of 9/11. Most critical attention has been paid, however, to Kadohata’s portrayal of the friendship between Sumiko, a Japanese American girl, and Frank, a Mohave boy from outside of the Poston camp. With its focus on the intersection of Japanese and Native American incarceration history and cross-racial alliances, Kadohata’s Weedflower resonates with Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar, at the end of which David, Kate, and some other internees escape from the Manzanar camp and find shelter within the Navajo Nation. But even without historical analogies or explicit 9/11 references, Kadohata’s Weedflower, along with Miyake’s and Otsuka’s novels, demonstrates a post-9/11 transnational and historical turn, as discussed in Chap. 1, through its exploration of America’s multicultural roots. If 9/11 and the War on Terror emerge as novel events that, as illustrated in Miyake’s novel, shape Japanese Americans’ cognition and memory of the WWII internment, the internment of Japanese Americans on a Native American reservation during WWII—the past present of Kadohata’s historical novel—functions as the emerging novel event, against which the early history of Native removal and displacement is repositioned. Weedflower is set in the Colorado River Relocation Center for a reason. It is referred to as “Poston” after Charles Debrille Poston, Arizona’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Sumiko and her family are incarcerated in the Colorado River Relocation Center, an internment camp the War Relocation Authority (WRA) established on the Mohave reservation despite the local tribes’ objections.7 As Paul Lai (2014) points out, this setting “allows for the possibility of contact” between Sumiko and Frank, “the enemy alien and the Indigenous ‘outsider’ from the perspective of the Anglo-American public” while also enabling the novel to “[shift] attention away from the uniqueness of war internment for Japanese Americans to the longstanding histories of incarceration that have



characterized the US government’s treatment of nonwhite peoples” (67–68). Indeed, inspired by Sharing a Desert Home, Kadohata’s Wildflower reinforces Ruth Okimoto’s observation that “in an ironic twist of history, the Japanese detainees at Poston experienced what American Indians did in the nineteenth and early 20th centuries” (Okimoto 2001, 5). However, rather than conflating the two groups based on the feature of common victimhood, Kadohata’s novel focuses on the ambivalence between Japanese Americans and Native Americans to foreground how the history of Native American displacement provides a critical perspective from which to reassess Japanese American internment during WWII, and vice versa. Although Japanese Americans and Native Americans are both minority groups, they have little else in common, and their initial interactions are plagued by ignorance and distrust, as exemplified by Sumiko and Frank’s initial hostility toward each other. Sumiko and her friend, Sachi, first encounter Frank and two other Indian boys in the middle of a bean field at the border of the camp. Sachi warns her, “If they catch us, we’ll get scalped” and then “they’ll cut off our fingers and boil them” (Kadohata 2006a, 121). As a result, Sumiko is more frightened of the Indians “than any white people she’d ever been around” (23). The Indian boys also stereotype Japanese Americans: “the Japs are all farmers,” “wasteful,” and “throw food out all the time” (121–22). Lack of previous contact has led Japanese American internees and Native Americans to view the other community respectively as savages to be civilized or as settlers to colonize and tame the desert land. Kadohata’s novel suggests that neither genuine friendship on a personal level nor cross-racial alliance on a collective level will be possible unless the two groups can reconcile their different perspectives of the internment. Yukari Kato (2015) argues that “[t]he pioneer narrative adapted to the internment offers a portrait of Nikkei as pioneer farmer, which would trouble the often-displayed portrait as victim of forced relocation in an analogy with removal of Native American[s]” (62). For some Native Americans, Japanese American internees also “participate in the U.S. pioneering, the process of moving Native Americans and conquering the land” (Kato 2015, 62). In Kadohata’s novel, Frank at first harbors a deep resentment against Japanese Americans not only because they are “Jap[s],” enemy aliens (140), but also because they are new invaders of the Indian reservation. Frank is bluntly hostile toward Sumiko: “Why don’t you people go back where you came from and leave our reservation alone?” (124).



Sumiko is shocked, having had no idea they were being forced on an Indian reservation. She is amazed to find the Indians must live in the barren desert with neither ice nor electricity, even poorer than the Japanese American internees who are “practically in jail” (143). She is shocked to learn of the Native removal and dispossession, but makes clear to Frank that “We didn’t ask to be here” and that Japanese American internees are not pioneers but rather “slave labor” (143, 160). Forced to compete for limited resources and land during wartime, Native Americans and Japanese Americans are positioned as antagonists while simultaneously linked by their shared experience of evacuation, exclusion, and incarceration. How to move forward and transcend victimhood is as important as decrying injustice. Kadohata’s novel suggests that while there can be no easy cross-racial identification, Japanese Americans and Native Americans can form an alliance against racial violence and settler colonialism. Despite initial misunderstandings and resentment, Sumiko and Frank eventually become good friends. Frank teaches Sumiko about the arrival of different indigenous tribes to the Colorado River Indian Reservation, first the Mohave, then the Chemehuevi, and finally the relocation of the Hopi and Navajo (160). She is further surprised to learn that Native Americans, although officially recognized American citizens, do not have the right to vote in Arizona and have no voice in the government’s interning the Japanese on their reservation (214). Sumiko teaches Frank about Japanese immigration to the U.S., and their settlement and farming in Southern California. Improved cultural awareness and currently shared experiences deepen their friendship, and they help each other plan for the future. Even though the Office of Indian Affairs wants Japanese Americans to stay in the camp to cultivate more lands, Frank encourages Sumiko to leave the camp with her aunt and not to give up her dream of owning a flower shop. Before she leaves, Sumiko arranges for her cousin to teach Frank’s brother how to irrigate his farm, which Frank assures her, “is going to change our lives” (166). It is significant that Sumiko and Frank both benefit from the friendship. Their friendship provides a critique of settler colonialism while also showing how cross-racial alliances serve as the foundation of a healthy multicultural society. The ending of Miyake’s novel also stresses the value of cross-racial alliances between Japanese Americans and Native Americans. David, Kate, and the other escapees from the Manzanar camp seek sanctuary on an Indian reservation. Their safety is protected in the Navajo/Dineh Nation because “ever since the Mohawk wars of the 1990s, some nations are not



only sovereign, but nontrespassable by any government forces under any circumstances” (Miyake 2002, 347). The desert, which was once a site of racial exclusion and conflicts, is reconstructed in Miyake’s novel “as a symbol of a multi-cultural society, as an alternative to white-dominated society (103). The performance of Ondo dances in the Navajo Indian reservation is especially symbolic. At the beginning of the novel, David recalls childhood memories of family and friends celebrating the traditional Obon festival in the Venice Japanese Community Center. Following the return of his father and other families after WWII, they “had lived in tents on the dirt parking lot of the center,” which, in the 1960s, began to serve as “the site of the carnival: Obon festival, traditionally a celebration of the dead, a welcome back to ancestors who’ve passed on” (17). When the ReVac is announced, however, the community center becomes “another FJO, Formerly Japanese Owned property” (17), and the annual Obon festival is forgotten until David and the other escapees celebrate it with the Navajo on the reservation. The festival is organized by Kerri, whose Nisei grandfather, marrying a Dineh woman after the war and being accepted into the tribe, has kept the tradition alive. Dancing to the Dineh drums, the recent escapees follow the lead of Kerri and other Dineh women around the fire, dancing in a circle with “[o]ld and new faces, dead and alive, colliding into a big carousel of shining bursts of recognition” (373). As an important part of the Japanese festival, the Ondo dance summons the spirits of the dead, manifesting Japanese Americans’ remembrance of their cultural roots, ancestors, and beloved family and friends who had died during WWII and the ReVac. In David’s eyes, Kerrie, “the determined one-­ quarter Japanese, one quarter Dineh, half Caucasian, all-American, militant happa woman, with her long, straight, black hair and almond-shaped ocean-blue eyes, in her kimono,” symbolizes “the future of this country, the hope for this planet” (375). The future that Kerrie embodies is a multicultural society built on cross-racial collaboration. Like Kadohata’s novel, Miyake’s novel ends on a hopeful note.

The Haunting Legacy of Japanese American Internment To some extent, the emergence of novel events in the post-9/11 era has catalyzed the humanist concerns that both contemporary readers and writers share about Japanese American internment. The emergent present



also opens up the possibility of repositioning Japanese American internment with other similar events of racial violence as a way to disentangle interracial relations in times of crisis like war while adding a sense of urgency to the building of cross-racial alliances to form a transnational and multicultural future. While transcending Japanese American interment to call for cross-racial collaboration to stop injustice, Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata also make it clear in their novels that justice should not be the only goal of internment narratives. Their novels highlight the changing meaning of the internment to different generations of Japanese Americans, regarding whom, as previously mentioned, existing studies of the novels have paid scant attention. Internment narratives tend to be first-person biographical accounts written by the internees themselves to testify to the injustice of Japanese American internment during WWII. Neo-internment narratives lost most of their practical usefulness with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which offered a national apology and a payment of $20,000 as compensation to each surviving victim. As a result, neo-internment narratives reflect the traps and limitations of monetary reparations and reductive, narrow legal redress that fails to address the psychological impact of the internment. Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata’s novels bring to the fore the devastating impact of the internment by grappling with different forms of trauma. They represent, at the individual level, the immediate effects of the internment on its direct victims by taking inspiration from real survivor accounts. At the same time, in distinction from the internment narratives that center solely on individual and race-based trauma,8 When the Emperor Was Divine, 21st Century Manzanar, and Weedflower constitute neo-internment narratives on the grounds that they either indirectly reflect or directly deal with the internment as historical and cultural trauma at an intergenerational level. In terms of generational identity, Otsuka and Kadohata are closer to each other than to Miyake, a Nisei, because they are both Sansei (third-­ generation Japanese Americans) who lack direct experience of the WWII internment. They inherit what Marianne Hirsch (2012) calls a “postmemory” of “stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up” (5). Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine is loosely based on the wartime experiences of her mother’s family. As she stated on the dedication page, the novel is written “in memory of Toyoko H. Nozaka,” Otsuka’s maternal grandmother, who was interned in Topaz with her two children (Otsuka’s mother and uncle). Similarly, Kadohata dedicates Weedflower to



her father, who, like the novel’s protagonists, had been detained at Poston, the Colorado River Relocation Center (Kadohata 2009, 120). Both authors were motivated by their families’ experiences to write their first internment novel. However, they do not write to record what their parents or grandparents have told them about the internment, but rather to make sense of what has happened because neither of their families spoke much about their experience. In an interview with Cindy Yoon, Otsuka (2003b) reveals that, for her mother and family, “the internment is definitely something they would rather forget because of the shame and the stigma they felt at having been labeled ‘disloyal.’” Kadohata (2006b) says something similar about her father: “He wouldn’t tell me anything about his experiences at Poston. He didn’t like talking about that period. . . .” Both writers inherited family trauma through silence. Issei and Nisei’s avoidance of open discussions about their internment experiences is a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as commonly displayed in many trauma survivors. In fact, as Donna Nagata et al. (2019) point out, many Nisei parents “did not discuss the camp experience with their Sansei offspring, not only to avoid their own traumatic memories but also to protect their children from the burden of knowing what happened” (9). And yet, silence itself cannot heal the victims’ wounds and may even create negative consequences for the next generation, as exemplified by “an acute Sansei awareness of an ominous gap in their family history” which can unfortunately lead to “greater familial distance” (Nagata et  al. 2019, 9). The postwar Sansei carry with them the legacy of their parents’ and grandparents’ internment. It must be noted that when family trauma is inherited, it does not mean that later generations feel the same pain as those who suffered the atrocities firsthand. Sansei Japanese Americans like Otsuka and Kadohata endure cultural and historical trauma, whereas the unjustly incarcerated Issei and Nisei experienced immediate individual and race-based traumas. Nagata et al. (2019) explain that historical trauma is, by definition, “a trauma that is shared by a group of people and has impacts that spans multiple generations” (3). Cultural trauma, more specifically, “focuses on the way in which a shared traumatic event impacts group consciousness and identity” (Nagata et al. 2019, 3). Instead of feeling the aftereffects of the psychological wound caused by the internment, as the Issei and Nisei have since the war’s end, Otsuka and Kadohata are faced with it as a cultural and historical trauma due to its impact on their group consciousness and identity as the Sansei. Historical and cultural traumas can be mediated and



transmitted by cultural memory, which, according to Astrid Erll and Ann Ridgey (2009), is “premised on the idea that memory can only become collective as part of a continuous process whereby memories are shared with the help of symbolic artefacts that mediate between individuals, and in the process, create community across both space and time. (1). To fill the gap created by family silence and learn what it means to be the “generation after” (Hirsch 2012, 5), Otsuka and Kadohata have to rely on history books and other survivors’ accounts to gain knowledge of what happened to their Nisei parents and Issei grandparents. Their postmemory of the internment is, hence, mediated memory and must not be treated as equivalent to the victims’ memories. Written out of Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s self-consciousness and self-­ identification as Sansei, When the Emperor Was Divine and Weedflower serve as neo-internment narratives that combine fiction with the authors’ personal family histories and others’ pasts and, in so doing, inextricably tie individual and race-based traumas to historical and cultural traumas. In “A Note on Sources,” which is attached to the novel as an appendix, Otsuka acknowledges Okubo’s Citizen 13660, Uchida’s Desert Exile, and several others for their help in writing When the Emperor Was Divine. In another article, I examine how Otsuka’s novel, as a “limit case” of life writing, “not only incorporates and absorbs but also refashions earlier memorial media” while making intertextual connections to Okubo’s and Uchida’s memoirs (Liao 2018, 512). Appearing before the first chapter of Weedflower, Kadohata’s acknowledgments page thanks many people and various works for aiding her in the writing of her novel. In particular, she states she is deeply indebted to Sharing a Desert Home by former internee Okimoto, who twice read Kadohata’s own manuscript. Speaking of Weedflower, Kadohata (2006a) claims that, “in many ways, this is her [Okimoto’s] story.” In other words, readers of Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s neo-internment narratives are reading not simply fictional works but the two Sansei writers’ family traumas and other individual traumas that have inspired them to seek historical truthfulness through literature. Like a palimpsest, When the Emperor Was Divine and Weedflower reveal layers of different surviving internees’ traumas and the haunting legacy of internment. As they break down the binary opposition between collective memory and individual memory and transmit the survivors’ memories of trauma into the postmemory of the Sansei generation, the two novels, functioning as symbolic artifacts, further cultivate in their readers a sense of community based on shared cultural memory rather than ethnic identity.



Otsuka and Kadohata have written Weedflower and When the Emperor Was Divine, respectively, to increase their own understanding of the family silence in which they grew up. Their novels show that silence is not merely a symptom of PTSD but also a trigger and enhancer of wartime trauma. Kadohata’s narrator calls Japan’s shock attack on Pearl Harbor “a big noise” and the U.S. declaration of war “a big silence” (54). The “silence” is “big” because it is powerful and omnipresent, affecting nearly all Japanese Americans, male and female, old and young. For the same protective reason that the Issei and Nisei parents do not discuss their internment experiences with their children born after the war, adults in Kadohata’s and Otsuka’s novels avoid mentioning the war and its consequences to children. In Weedflower, the day after the U.S. declares war on Japan, Sumiko does not go to school, but neither her aunt nor uncle tells her why she has to stay home. While the adults’ silence is intended to protect her from psychological burden, it keeps Sumiko paranoid and convinced that somebody “would take her POW or hostage” (54). The adults pretend that nothing has happened and her cousin, Bull, “continue[s] to work the fields” as usual (55). However, that evening Uncle and Jiichan are abruptly taken away from home by “two police officers” and “[t]wo white men in suits” (57). Sumiko has no idea who these men are, but readers will know immediately that they are the FBI agents who, without advance notice, also come to arrest the father in Otsuka’s novel. The father is so unprepared that he is taken away “in his bathrobe and slippers” (Otsuka [2002] 2003a, 74). Separated from his children, the father still attempts to encourage them to lead a normal life. He writes letters to his son “every few days” and always signs “From Papa, With Love” (59). Even though the rest of the family are incarcerated at Topaz, the father’s letters ask the son about mundane matters, such as “Do you still like baseball?” and “Do you have a best friend?” (60). Imprisoned in Lordsburg, the father tells the son that “he was fine. Everything was fine,” and “[n]ot once did he mention the war” (78). Like the father in Otsuka’s novel, Jiichan frequently writes letters to Sumiko to keep her and the rest of the family updated about his and Uncle’s life in another camp. However, there is no mention of war, and Sumiko recalls once “his whole letter was about food . . . all the foods he used to eat in their old life and how much he missed all that” (Kadohata 2006a, 154). Keeping silent about the ongoing war, the adults in both novels try to direct the children’s attention away from their captive status to the importance of leading a normal life.



Despite their efforts, the adults’ silence fails to protect the children from being traumatized by the war and its terrifying consequences. Rather, it throws them into an abyss of darkness. Both Kadohata and Otsuka deploy the rhetorical device of repetition to force their readers to feel, again and again through the repeated sentences and scenes, the children’s inability to comprehend wartime racial discrimination and to cope with the unspeakable trauma and shame that afflict them. Having no knowledge of what would happen to them, Sumiko’s young brother, Takao, is attacked by uncontrollable waves of fear, continually asking the adults, “Are they going to kill us?” (29, 30, 85). The day after the Pearl Harbor attack, Sumiko asks the same question and is told by Auntie not to talk like her brother (48). Uncle and Auntie at first assure them that nobody is going to kill them, but Jiichan “looked stricken,” and there is “long silence as Auntie and Uncle stared at each other” in a way that “scared” Sumiko (48). Uncle and Auntie’s long silence, unconsciously revealing their own unexpressed anxiety, shatters the sense of security that they at first attempt to nurture in the children. Sumiko and Takao immediately feel the psychological stress of helplessness and anxiety as their Aunt and Uncle make them find and burn everything related to Japan, including all their Japanese books, magazines, and even the picture of Sumiko’s parents because “[t]here’s a Japanese flag in that picture” (50). As Kadohata’s novel repeats the question, “Are they going to kill us?,” Otsuka’s novel replays, in the son’s mind, the image of the hatless father in bathrobe and slippers being directed into a waiting FBI car (74, 84, 91). In particular, he cannot forget the faces of his neighbors who “had seen his father taken away in his slippers” (74). The image of his father’s being taken away like a criminal both shocks and shames the boy, and is indelibly engraved in his mind. The memory is also mixed with a sense of guilt because that night the father had asked him to get a glass of water, but before he could, his father was taken away, leaving him afterwards haunted by recurring dreams of water (59, 97). Repeated questions and recurring flashbacks and dreams bespeak the traumatic impacts of the war on the children who do not know how to articulate their feelings. Silence can be a familial act of protection or a sign of helplessness. During wartime, it is also imposed on the powerless and subjugated racial minorities. Both Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s novels reveal how, to avoid being labeled disloyal, Japanese Americans burn objects related to Japan and stop speaking Japanese in public, even pretending not to know their mother tongue. Sumiko at first refuses to burn her notebooks, which



contain “a little Japanese” she has worked hard to learn, but Uncle warns her that her Japanese writing could endanger their lives: “If we are all arrested, who will take care of you? Now get your notebooks, and anything else that seems un-American” (49–50). Being raised Sansei in Southern California, Sumiko has always identified as both American and Japanese and understood English better than Japanese, so the possibility of Uncle being “arrested simply because she could write Japanese” terrifies her (50). She has no choice but to abandon her learning of the Japanese language. The girl in Otsuka’s novel has a better mastery of Japanese than Sumiko, but when an old man on the train to Topaz tries to talk to her in Japanese, she replies “she was sorry, she only spoke English” (Otsuka [2002] 2003a, 28). Two days after the father’s arrest by the FBI, the boy nods obediently when the mother tells him to pretend to be Chinese at school (75). Thereafter he only whispers Japanese “quietly” and “[q]uickly” when he is alone (52). The fear of speaking Japanese in public reflects the Japanese Americans’ panic caused by the “governmental and legal apparatuses of U.S. nationalism” that turn “the threat of Japanese empire into Japanese (American) racial difference” (Chuh 2003, 59). The loss of the Japanese language is not a linguistic question but one of race and international politics. By depicting the Japanese Americans’ silence as a traumatic side effect of the “enforced, transnational identification with Japan that politicized racial difference” (Park 2013, 137), Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s post-redress, neo-internment narratives manifest the two Sansei writers’ “efforts to explore the inherent but previously underexamined transnational and multicultural dimensions of internment history” (Sato 2009, 456). A multicultural and multilingual society should be the natural result of globalization and migration, but the world war that the U.S. entered in December 1941 against Japanese imperialism turned people of Japanese ancestry into enemy aliens who, for survival, had to cut ties with their roots and relinquish Japanese culture and language. Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s novels lend voice to the Japanese American internees’ pain and suffering hidden in the very depths of their silence. The novels also foreground the issue of wartime censorship by drawing the reader’s attention to the empty spaces in the internees’ letters and postcards. Imprisoned in camps for enemy aliens, Sumiko’s Jiichan and Uncle, as well as the father in Otsuka’s novel, are allowed to write letters to their family members, but their letters are subjected to both military and civil postal censorship. Despite the father’s assurance that “he was fine. Everything was fine” (Otsuka [2002] 2003a, 78), the excised letters



that the son receives show the opposite: “Sometimes entire sentences had been cut out with a razor blade by the censors and the letters did not make any sense. Sometimes they arrived in one piece, but with half of the words blacked out” (59). The father’s postcards are censored, too, as the daughter finds out at the bottom of one card: “there was a P.S. and then a line of text had been blacked out by the censors” (42). Incarcerated, the Japanese American internees have neither freedom of movement nor freedom of speech. Their civil liberties are curtailed. In Weedflower, instead of writing exposition to tell what happens, Kadohata inserts empty brackets abruptly into the text of a letter to show how it is censored, thereby allowing the reader to experience the receiver’s bewilderment. One of Uncle’s letters, for example, contains sentences like “It’s already [this part was censored]” and “We may be moved to [censored]” (Kadohata 2006a, 137). The parts deemed unsuitable by the authorities and removed from the personal letters and cards symbolically denote the senders’ “tortured body” (Park 2013, 141) and their undesirable identity as enemy aliens and Japanese Americans during WWII. While both families attempt to return to normality by writing in their letters only about weather, food, and mundane activities without mentioning anything about the war, the blacked-­ out lines and tattered letters ironically disclose nothing but wartime censorship and injustice. During and after the incarceration, achieving normality is nearly impossible. While Weedflower ends with Sumiko’s family leaving the camp and bidding farewell to others at Poston, the penultimate chapter of When the Emperor Was Divine depicts the family’s life after returning to Southern California. Their post-war life offers the reader a few glimpses of how Kadohata’s father, Otsuka’s mother and grandparents, and other surviving internees carried on in silence long after the war’s end. The chapter, “In a Stranger’s Backyard,” is narrated from the first-person plural “we” perspective of the children. It shows the father’s reticence and self-isolation after the war. The father suppresses his trauma and suffers in silence, as the “we” narrator tells us: “He never said a word to us about the years he’d been away. Not one word. He never talked about politics, or his arrest . . .” (Otsuka [2002] 2003a, 133). Nonetheless, the repressed trauma of incarceration returns to haunt him in “the same recurring dream: It was five minutes past curfew and he was trapped outside, in the world, on the wrong side of the fence” (137). The father shouts in dreams, but when he wakes up, he becomes silent again and begins “spending more and more time alone in his room” (136). Family estrangement is foreseeable not



only because of the father’s reticence and self-isolation but also because of the children’s avoidance of anything that would trigger memories of the internment. The narrator says, “Was he guilty as charged? Was he innocent? . . . We didn’t know. We didn’t want to know. We never asked. All we wanted to do, now that we were back in the world, was forget” (133). There is a gap between the father and children due to a lack of communication. Both the father and children demonstrate an escape coping mechanism, as characterized by their effort to avoid dealing with the trauma of internment. While avoidance coping protects them from psychological damage, it leaves the trauma unresolved and affects the existing relationship between family members. While Otsuka’s and Kadohata’s neo-internment narratives illustrate Sansei writers’ efforts to listen to family silence and to verbalize the lingering legacy of the WWII internment, Miyake’s debut novel, 21st Century Manzanar, directly tackles the intergenerational effects of the internment on the generation born after the war. Although Miyake himself is a Nisei born in Venice, California, and a former internee at Rohwer, he does not seek redress by providing a personal, testimonial account of the WWII internment, as several other Nisei writers have done. Instead, his neo-­ internment narrative centers on the postmemory of the next generation. Kate and her oldest brother, David, are characterized as Sansei who, like Otsuka and Kadohata, are impacted by the historical and cultural trauma of the WWII internment. They have no direct experience of the internment and have to rely on resources outside of their family circle to grasp the distant atrocities. David remembers that “[h]is folks and other Niseis just called it camp,” and the Sansei children “all thought they were talking about summer camp” (Miyake 2002, 1). It was not until he went to college that he realized the WWII Japanese American internment camp “fit Webster’s definition of a concentration camp” (2). The curiosity of Kate, the “sheltered” daughter, was also “college-activated” and “movement-­ inspired” (27). However, all she could get to “wring out of her poor, previously tight-lipped, shikataganai, that’s-the-way-it-was-and-we-­ don’t-wanna-talk-about-it parents” were simple facts like “the mess halls and toilets with no dividers and community showers, the tar-paper barracks, the wind and dust” (26–27). Her parents said they were too young then to “really know what was happening” (26). Kate’s parents were the kind of adults that the Nisei children in Otsuka’s novel grow up to become. They may have been young when they were incarcerated, but intentional forgetting matters as much as age in affecting how and what they



remember. There is a gap in their memory and intergenerational relationship. Like her brother David, who read uncensored history books, Kate did research and “had seen pictures of camps” (26) to fill in the gaps left by family silence. Still, “the generation after” is the lost generation struggling to know who they are—the American, Japanese, both, or neither. The irony is that Kate’s second oldest brother, John, who grew up to become more Americanized than any of them, is beaten to death by white racist teenagers, who see nothing but Japaneseness in John. Although John does not seem to be as curious as his siblings about the Issei and Nisei’s internment experiences, his distancing from the Japanese language and culture and full assimilation into mainstream white American society bespeak his sense of insecurity as a third-generation Japanese American. He has a white heart and dark skin and feels “disconnected” from his “slanting eyes,” which are indicative of his ethnic identity (7). As described in the novel, “He often felt so American that seeing himself in a mirror was disorienting” (7). English sums up everything in John’s life: He spoke only English, understood only English and, as a native Californian, a smattering of Spanish. The television he watched was all in English . . . his favorite movies were in English. His favorite music, jazz and rock, was American. He read and wrote in English. He thought in English. (7)

John’s “super” Americanization and “accelerated loss of Japanese language and cultural practices” may in part have resulted from the intergenerational trauma impact on “post-incarceration parenting” (Nagata et al. 2019, 9). Nagata et al.’s research finds that, after the war, the surviving Nisei made an effort “to blend into mainstream society by de-emphasizing Japanese culture and language,” and “a majority of Sansei succeeded in meeting their parents’ expectations” and proving “their worth to society” (9, 10). Even though, since the end of WWII, Japanese Americans have become a model minority in the U.S., anti-Japanese sentiments have been fueled time and again under different circumstances. During the fictional economic war against Japan, John is murdered on the highway by “[u]neducated, tattooed, nicotined whites” for taking their jobs (8). John’s murder is reminiscent of the racially motivated murder of Vincent Chin by laid-off autoworkers in Detroit in 1982.9 John himself thinks of Vincent Chin when his car is stopped by those guys. Deep down, John knows that his super Americanization cannot overcome racial differences. He is always the “Jap” (8), as the term came to be used offensively during and after



WWII. Through John’s death, Miyake’s novel emphasizes the ceaseless and unremitting pressure of white racism on the life of different generations of Japanese Americans. In 21st Century Manzanar, Miyake represents deep-seated racism against Japanese Americans and projects his fear of historical recurrences of mass evacuation and incarceration into a near-future dystopian world. In the imagined world, the U.S. is faced with an economic downturn and skyrocketing rates of unemployment. In order “to save the very soul of America: its pocketbook” (Miyake 2002, 13), the country declares the Economic War with Japan and enters WWIII. The fictional American president, modeling himself on President Roosevelt, reinstates Executive Order 9066 in the name of national security. Once again, Japanese Americans become enemy aliens and must be evacuated and incarcerated en masse. Born after the war and going to college in the redress era, David cannot believe that the U.S. has not learned a lesson from history. With the passage of time, WWII atrocities seem distant, and past wrongs are forgotten in the twenty-first century. When Executive Order 9066 is reinstated, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) “was once again trying to make the best of a bad situation, hoping the President would realize the folly of eliminating law-abiding taxpayers from the economy while they tried to formulate plans to prove, one more time, to their fellow Americans that they were loyal” (3).10 David is not as hopeful as the JACL that the President would come to realize the policy’s folly. He is despondent about the state of American democracy and the way the war is progressing. Almost self-accusingly he finds faults with his own stupidity in believing that “it couldn’t happen in this country again” (4). Seeing his younger sister Kate and her family boarding the train to Manzanar, David thinks bitterly to himself: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice  . . .” (4). Here, the phrase is not finished because it is so well known a cliché whose last words are “shame on me.” It makes the readers think if they would be fooled like David, and if the injustice is repeated, who is to be blamed and ashamed, “you” or “me”? Miyake’s neo-internment narrative resituates the distant atrocities of Japanese American evacuation and internment in a contemporary context, and in doing so, it warns that a similar event is imminent even in the post-­redress era if racism does not stop. Replaying the WWII history in the twenty-first century, the novel also keeps internment-related memories vivid in the reader’s mind. Part One of the novel, “Evacuation, the Sequel,” draws a parallel between the WWII evacuation and ReVac,



skillfully combining speculative writing with historical fiction. Kate’s husband, Ray, is taken away by the FBI on the day ReVac is announced, just as her Jiichan had been arrested on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Like her grandmother and parents over half a century previously, Kate and her two young children are forcibly removed from Los Angeles, transported to Santa Anita Racetrack, and finally detained at Manzanar, which, during WWII, was the first internment camp in operation. At Manzanar, which is once again euphemistically called the “relocation center” (147, 285), the camp director Lilian’s “Plan” to solve American employment and boost morale is to revive an idea suggested in Congress during WWII, to sterilize Japanese American men (177), a rumor that the family in Otsuka’s novel also hear about (70). Even though everything seems familiar and Kate has seen pictures of camps and heard stories about incarceration before, “nothing had prepared her for the absolutely helpless feeling of standing in line with hundreds of other Japanese descendants in a camp full of thousands more” (Miyake 2002, 27). When it is repeated, the life behind the barbed wire still causes psychological trauma that defeats human comprehension, as overwhelming and disturbing as it had been decades ago. The ReVac forces the novel’s Sansei and Yonsei protagonists (fourth-generation Japanese Americans), as well as its contemporary readers, to relive the fear, panic, and distress that many Issei and Nisei surviving internees have hidden from their offspring and suffered in silence.

Conclusion When the Emperor Was Divine, 21st Century Manzanar, and Weedflower show that the given past—Japanese American internment—is both irrevocable and revocable. On the one hand, despite increasing numbers of surviving internees breaking silence and turning to litigation to redress wrongs done to them during WWII, what has happened has happened. The past may be reparable but it is irrevocable. There is no doubt that something has happened, and the victims’ oral testimony and written accounts, such as Okubo’s Citizen 13660, Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar, Uchida’s Desert Exile, and Okimoto’s Sharing a Desert Home, have added new evidence over the past few decades. These internment narratives manifest the Issei and Nisei’s efforts to testify to historical truth regarding what was done to Japanese American internees. After years of historical research, Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata carefully selected details



for their novels to be faithful to reality, implying that “there is or has been some reality there which [they] are bringing to light” (Mead 2002, 39). Precisely because we cannot undo the past and some past events like Japanese American internment have such traumatic impacts on the victims and their offspring, as the novels suggest, we need to proceed with caution in order not to make the same mistake in the present or future. On the other hand, Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata’s novels enrich Japanese American internment narratives with intergenerational, cross-­ racial, and post-9/11 perspectives. The internment of Japanese Americans happened during WWII, but it has acquired new meanings with the passage of time. For Japanese American writers who were born or grew up in the post-redress era, such as Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata, justice may not be as urgent an issue to address as it was before. What concerns them more is finding a way to penetrate the family silence, cope with trauma, and pass on the memories of surviving internees, as well as the postmemory of the Sansei, to the contemporary reader through the cultural memories their novels trigger. Cultural memory of the internment enables contemporary readers to remember Japanese American internment as a collectively shared historical and cultural trauma and to associate the old story, told anew, with the emergent events of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Otsuka, Miyake, and Kadohata’s novels exemplify a new wave of internment narratives that orient Japanese American internment in relation to the detention of Arab and Muslim Americans or to the removal and dispossession of Native Americans. Without doubt, justice must be redressed to correct past wrongs, but, as neo-internment narratives suggest, it is equally important to prevent historical recurrence and to form cross-racial alliances to create a truly multicultural society to which everyone can belong in times of peace and crisis.

Notes 1. During WWII, the term “relocation centers” was used euphemistically to refer to the practice of massive Japanese American incarceration, which was then deemed a military necessity. After the war, the term “internment camps” gained popularity despite its ambiguity. Critics of the term argue that these facilities should be called, more accurately, “concentration camps” or “incarceration camps” (Daniels 2005, 205; Simal-González 2016, 166–67). While agreeing with these critics, I do not deliberately



avoid using “internment” in this chapter because the term has been commonly accepted and widely used in public discourse. 2. At a public hearing in New York, for example, Okubo provided her oral testimony to the CWRIC, in addition to a copy of Citizen 13660 (Okubo [1946] 2002, xi). 3. In his 2003 remarks at McChord Airforce Base, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney averred that “9/11 changed everything for us” and “forced us to think in new ways about threats to the United States, about our vulnerabilities. . . .” For more details on the rhetoric, “9/11 changed everything,” advanced by the Bush administration, see Dunmire 2009. 4. Kadohata published her first novel, The Floating World, in 1989, but she is best known for her children’s books. Her first young adult novel, Kira-­ Kira, won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature in 2005. 5. The ten Japanese American internment camps of World War II are Topaz, Colorado River (Poston), Granada (Amache), Heart Mountain, Jerome, Manzanar, Minidoka, Rohwer, and Tule Lake, most of which are in desolate, isolated desert areas or swampland. 6. Axelrod and Forster’s research analyzes historical analogies invoked in the media coverage of the following three events: terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India in 2008, and anti-­ Mubarak demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt in 2011. On the basis of importance and availability on the Web, five newspapers are selected, including the New York Times in the U.S., Ha’aretz in Israel, Dar al-Hayat in Lebanon, the Times of India in India, and People’s Daily in China. 7. For more details on the establishment of the Poston camp, see Kato 2015, 61; Lai 2014, 67, 73–74. 8. In the epilogue to her memoir Desert Exile, for example, Uchida (1982) clearly states that “[m]y story is a very personal one, and I speak only for myself and of those Issei and Nisei who were in the realm of my own experience, aware that they are only a small part of a larger whole” (153). 9. For more details on Vincent Chin’s murder, see Choy and Tajima 1989 and Chan 1991. 10. During WWII, the leaders of Japanese American Citizens League championed service in the army to prove loyalty and improve the treatment of detainees. For more details, see Hosokawa 1982, 275.

References Assmann, Aleida. “The Remember or to Forget: Which Way Out of a Shared History of Violence?” Memory and Political Change. Ed. Aleida Assmann and Linda Shortt. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 53–71.



Axelrod, Robert, and Larissa Forster. “How Historical Analogies in Newspapers of Five Countries Make Sense of Major Events: 9/11, Mumbai and Tahrir Square.” Research in Economics 71.1 (2017): 8–19. Beck, John. Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2009. Bush, George W. “We’re Fighting to Win—And Win We Will.” Remarks by the President. USS Enterprise Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. 7 Dec. 2001. Web. 21 Mar. 2020. . Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991. Cheney, Dick. Remarks by the Vice President. McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, Washington. 22 Dec. 2003. Web. 18 Feb. 2020. . Choy, Christine, and Renee Tajima. Who Killed Vincent Chin? PBS Documentary, 1989. Chuh, Kandice. Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Daniels, Roger. “Words Do Matter: A Note on Inappropriate Terminology and the Incarceration of the Japanese Americans.” Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2005. 190–214. Derrida, Jacques. “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides.” Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Ed. Giovanna Borradori. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. 85–136. Dunmire, Patricia L. “‘9/11 Changed Everything’: On Intertextual Analysis of the Bush Doctrine.” Discourse & Society 20. 2 (2009): 195–222. Erll, Astrid, and Ann Ridgey. “Introduction: Cultural Memory and its Dynamics.” Meditation, Remediation, and the Dynamics of Cultural Memory. Ed. Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. 1–11. Freedman, Samuel G. “One Family’s Story of Persecution Resonates in the Post-9/11 World.” New York Times. New York Times, 17 Aug. 2005. Web. 27 Feb. 2020. . Gauthier, Marni. Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American History: Counterhistory. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Hosokawa, Bill. JACL: In Quest of Justice; History of the Japanese American Citizens League. New York: William Morrow, 1982. Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower. New  York: Athenenm Books for Young Readers, 2006a.



———. “Children’s Bookshelf Talks with Cynthia Kadohata.” Interview by Lynda Comerford. Publishers Weekly. 29 Mar. 2006b. Web. 25 Feb. 2020. . ———. “On Finding a Home.” Ethnic Literary Traditions in American Children’s Literature. Ed. Michelle Pagni Stewart and Yvonne Atkinson. New  York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 117–22. Kato, Yukari. “Pioneer Narrative of an Internee Girl: Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower (2006) and Nikkei Reclaim for the American West.” Journal of the American Literature Society of Japan 13 (2015): 61–76. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Komatsu, Yasuyo. “Transformation of the Desert Representation: from the Internment to Society in Japanese-American Literature.” Human and Socio-­ Environmental Studies 25.3 (2013): 91–110. Lai, Paul. “Militarized Friendship Narratives: Enemy Aliens and Indigenous Outsiders in Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower.” College Literature 41.1 (2014): 66–89. Liao, Pei-chen. “Life Writing, Cultural Memory, and Historical Mediation in Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine.” Life Writing 15.4 (2018): 505–21. Marcus, Amit. “We Are You: The Plural and the Dual in ‘We’ Fictional Narratives.” Journal of Literary Semantics 37.1 (2008): 1–21. Mead, George Herbert. The Philosophy of the Present. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2002. Miyake, Perry. 21st Century Manzanar. Los Angeles: Really Great Books, 2002. Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. The Past within Us: Media, Memory, History. New  York: Verso, 2005. Mumford, Andrew. “Parallels, Prescience and the Past: Analogical Reasoning and Contemporary International Politics.” International Politics 52 (2015): 1–19. Nagata, Donna K., Jacqueline H. J. Kim, and Kaidi Wu. “The Japanese American Wartime Incarceration: Examining the Scope of Racial Trauma.” American Psychologist 74.1 (2019): 36–48. PMID: 30652898; PMCID: PMC6354763. Nguyen, Chau. “History Reenacted in 21st Century Manzanar.” UCLA International Institute. 10 Oct. 2003. Web. 18 Mar. 2020. . Okimoto, Ruth. Sharing a Desert Home: Life on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, Poston, Arizona, 1942–1945. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2001. Okubo, Miné. Citizen 13660. 1946. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2002. Otsuka, Julie. Interview. BookBrowse. 2002. Web. 6 Mar. 2020. . ———. When the Emperor Was Divine. 2002. New York: Anchor Books, 2003a.



———. “‘When the Emperor was Divine’. . . and When Japanese Americans Were Rounded Up.” Interview by Cindy Yoon. Asia Society. 8 Dec. 2003b. Web. 25 Feb. 2020. . Park, Josephine. “Alien Enemies in Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine.” Modern Fiction Studies 59.1 (2013): 135–55. Richardson, Brian. Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. Ohio: Ohio State UP, 2006. Robinson, Alan. Narrating the Past: Historiography, Memory and the Contemporary Novel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Sato, Gayle K. “Japanese American Internment.” The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature. Ed. Guiyou Huang. London: Greenwood, 2009. 451–56. Shea, Renée H. “The Urgency of Knowing: A Profile of Julie Otsuka.” Poets & Writers Sept./Oct. 2011: n. pag. Web. 28 Mar. 2020. . Simal-González, Begoña. “Revisiting the Campo: A Biopolitical Reading of Perry Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar.” Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos 20 (2016): 159–80. Uchida, Yoshiko. Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1982. Upchurch, Michael. “The Last Roundup.” New York Times 22 Sept. 2002. Sec. 7: 14.


“Walking a Tightrope”: Nostalgia, American Innocence, and Exceptionalism in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin

Irish American writer Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin has been understood by many of its reviewers and commentators as an elegy to both the Towers and the victims of 9/11. Since its publication in 2009, literary criticism has been inordinately focused on the novel’s rewinding history to rebuild the Towers and replace the spectacle of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with Philippe Petit’s beautiful performance in midair. This presentist approach significantly differs from the one applied to Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and to the Japanese American neo-internment narratives, such as Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine. As discussed in Chaps. 3 and 4, existing scholarship has largely centered on the nightmarish and apocalyptic scenes in Roth’s novel and Japanese American neo-­ internment narratives, in a way that highlights the uncanny analogy between WWII and the War on Terror. The similarities are found, for example, in the increasingly centralized role that the American government played after entering both WWII and the War on Terror, as well as the traumatic impact of the two international wars on immigrants and ethnic minority groups, turning them into enemies or enemy aliens and rendering their American homes unhomely. Comparative studies of the past and the present and of fact and fiction have been undertaken out of the fear that the unrealized yet plausible past of racist and authoritative governments, like Roth’s imagined Lindbergh administration, may come true, or that the historical trauma of Japanese American internment may fade into oblivion. To remember them is to avoid repeating the same © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




mistakes. In contrast to such readings of WWII novels as historical warnings for the present society, an opposite phenomenon has arisen, valorizing a return to the “good old days” to foster hope and accelerate healing in an American society traumatized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. One example of this phenomenon is the renewed popularity of Petit’s tightrope walk of 1974; it has served as an inspiration for a growing number of artistic works which claim to provide post-9/11 mourning. In bringing healing to a wounded society, the representation of Petit’s walk is usually infused with a general sense of nostalgia for the past before the Towers’ destruction. On August 7, 1974, twenty-four-year-old French aerialist Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers of New York’s 110-story World Trade Center. Winner of the 2009 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, McCann’s Let the Great World Spin was inspired by Petit’s tightrope walk. Although the funambulist remains unnamed throughout the text, the novel’s American hardback cover, drawn by Matteo Pericoli, portrays a man balancing on a tight wire strung between two buildings, one on the front cover and the other on the back cover. In between the two tallest buildings are other high-rises, highways, bridges, and some New  York landmarks, revealing the hustle and bustle of the city. The novel itself is composed of four “books” (as they are named in the novel), as well as a prologue and two short intersections. The prologue, entitled “Those Who Saw Him Hushed,” introduces an unnamed man standing at the edge of a building, taking in the awe of the watchers. Neither the building nor the city is named in the prologue, but keywords given in the first two paragraphs, like “Church Street,” “Liberty,” and “a hundred and ten stories” (McCann 2009a, 3), suggest the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York. The first intersection, between Book One and Two, provides an account of the tightrope walker’s six years of training in various locations. A documentary photo of Petit walking on a rope between the Towers is inserted into the novel, preceding the second intersection, between Book Two and Three. This intersection details the fictionalized Petit’s jobs in New York and his arrest by the police after the walk. The prologue and two intersections can be combined to form a complete narrative of Petit’s endeavor, step by step, in achieving his dream of reaching the clouds and watching the world spin below. This chapter examines the cultural and political implications of nostalgia that McCann’s novel brings to the fore in relation to American



innocence and exceptionalism. Michael Pickering and Emily Keightley (2006) have carefully recorded how the Swiss physician Johannes Hofner coined the term “nostalgia” in the seventeenth century to refer to “a disease with symptoms ranging from melancholia and weeping to anorexia and suicide” (921–22). Depathologized in the late nineteenth century, nostalgia came to be “associated with a sort of homesickness for a lost past” (Pickering and Keightley 2006, 922), as suggested by its Greek roots (nostos—return home, and algia—longing). Accordingly, nostalgia—as an individual or group phenomenon—reflects not merely reminiscences but, more importantly, affective investment in the past as a means of recalling an intact sense of both home and self. Normally, nostalgia, like an epidemic, breaks out following wars, disasters, and catastrophes. As Svetlana Boym (2001), in The Future of Nostalgia, asserts, “nostalgia inevitably reappears as a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals” (xiv). Paradoxically, nostalgia is dangerous, too, for it “tends to confuse the actual home and the imaginary home” (Boym 2001, xvi). In extreme cases, when nostalgia for an imaginary homeland is manipulated to spark religious and national revivals, it evinces an innocence whose synonym, according to Prakash Kona (2017), is “infantilism,” for “it prefers to see the past as utopia rather than as history.” Boym thus draws attention to the distinction between two kinds of nostalgia: restorative nostalgia and reflective nostalgia. The former “proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps,” whereas the latter “lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time” (Boym 2001, 41). In the context of post-9/11 political conditions, to rebuild a lost home and to reclaim a lost American innocence through restorative nostalgia is, in a sense, to create a fantasy world and to fortify an exceptionalist view of the U.S. that is physically inviolable and morally superior to others. On the surface, McCann’s representation of Petit’s walk in the prologue and the two intersections may seem to embrace restorative nostalgia and bolster nation-building myths. However, I argue that the first three books embedded within the common framework of fictionalized Petit’s story rigorously employ a critical approach to the U.S. transnational history and reflect tensions between restorative and reflective nostalgia. In opposition to the longing for a lost idealized home and the claims to American innocence that some feel Petit’s walk triggers and reproduces when it is represented in the post-9/11 U.S., the novel’s framed stories, returning to the 1970s and an earlier time, provoke the ambivalences of



longing and belonging, guilt and innocence, the repercussions of repressed memories, and disillusionment with American exceptionalism. In an interview with Nathan Englander, McCann (2009b) explains why Let the Great World Spin is set specifically in 1974. For McCann, 1974 marks “a different point of innocence,” and seriously facing American history allows us to consider “[w]herever we are now is wherever we once were” (363, 362). In other words, instead of suggesting “[a] representational cycle of negative present and positive past” that “promotes meanings made by means of opposition, contradistinction and dichotomous contrast,” McCann’s novel illuminates what Pickering and Keightley (2006) called, “the more ambiguous, unsettled and contested relations between past and present” (925). The novel’s three books delineate the 1970s as a decade in which the country, New York, and many people’s personal homes were about to fall into ruins, as similarly happened in the post-9/11 era, because of the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and racial inequality in its backyard. As a whole, Let the Great World Spin uses a fictionalized version of Petit’s narrative as one of the main threads of the novel, spinning it into a greater story about New York and the U.S. of the 1970s. The accounts of Petit’s tightrope walk are subtly woven into the multiple narratives of the novel’s different fictional characters who also have to “walk a tightrope,” as the idiom says, while dealing with difficult situations in their mundane world. In the novel, the everyday tightrope walkers include American soldiers who die in Vietnam, their grieving parents, and African American street prostitutes living in the Bronx as social cast-offs. Through both the historicized and symbolic tightrope walkers who struggle to keep their balance either high in the sky, in a foreign country, or on the New York streets, McCann turns his novel into “a new historiographical project,” which, as Ian Tyrrell (1991) explains, is “organized in terms of a simultaneous consideration of different geographical scales—the local, the national, and the transnational—in American historical thought” (1033). It is also one that is organized in terms of multidirectional and connective memories, as these tightrope walkers’ multiple and interwoven narratives especially highlight how the legacy of the Vietnam War and white racism linger in the reader’s post-9/11 world.



WTC, Beauty, and Redemption McCann’s novel and its reception by contemporary readers reflect how the meanings and memories of Petit’s tightrope walk have changed since 1974. After 9/11, as it gradually came to be seen as an icon of nostalgia, Petit’s walk ironically became further detached from its historical reality. In the historical context of the 1970s, Petit’s performative act at the top of the World Trade Center was sensational because it was a tightrope walk between the newly completed two tallest buildings in the world. According to his memoir, To Reach the Clouds, Petit (2003) conceived the plan of walking between the Towers in a French dentist’s waiting room when he, barely eighteen years old, read about the World Trade Center construction project in a magazine (4). After years of construction that had begun in 1965, the Twin Towers were officially opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 4, 1973. During their Dedication-Day ceremony, Port Authority Chairman, James C. Kellogg III, read a message from President Nixon, in which he called the World Trade Center, “a major factor for the expansion of the nation’s international trade” (qtd. in Haberman 2013, 99). In Divided We Stand, Eric Darton (1999) notes that “its emergence on the skyline would broadcast the news that New York had . . . wrenched itself free of its murky industrial past . . . the towers would serve as symbols of the financial center’s manifest destiny and would secure the city’s position as the vital hub of the coming post-industrial world” (74–75). In contrast to the American government’s proclaimed optimism and confidence about the country’s bright future in dominating global economics, Michel de Certeau (1984), in The Practice of Everyday Life, condemns the World Trade Center as a symbol of excessive wealth and hegemonic power. He, in particular, has an issue with the height of the skyscrapers, reigning over New York and the world. As de Certeau sarcastically and figuratively puts it, when one goes up to the summit of the World Trade Center, one is elevated to such a height that one reads the city like a text with one’s “solar Eye, looking down like a god” (92). In McCann’s representation, however, fictionalized Petit does not read the city like a text, nor is he a god-like figure whose all-seeing power de Certeau denounces. Rather, McCann’s tightrope walker knows that “[t]here was an arrogance in it,” but “on the wire the arrogance became survival” (McCann 2009a, 240). It is the idea of “survival” rather than “arrogance,” as I will later thoroughly elaborate, that runs throughout the novel, weaving Petit’s narrative together with those of the fictional characters.



In McCann’s novel, another symbolic meaning that is commonly linked to Petit’s walk is beauty. McCann opens the novel by describing how “awful and beautiful” it is to see a man standing at the edge of the World Trade Center (3). In the intersection between Book One and Two, in which Petit’s planning and training before the walk are documented, the narrator reveals Petit’s faith in “walking beautifully, elegantly” (160), and, at the end of the intersection, it is stressed again that “[t]he core reason for it all was beauty” (164). In the 1970s New York that McCann portrays, the beauty of Petit’s walk is in stark contrast to the excrescence of the World Trade Center on the city’s skyline. On her way to Claire’s apartment to join a group meeting, Marcia—one of the novel’s bereaved mothers—happens to see Petit walking between the Towers. When she tries to tell the other mothers of the support group what she has seen, she cannot remember precisely the name of the buildings, so she says, “someone’s walking a tightrope. Between those new buildings, the World Towery thingymajigs” (95). Although the other mothers immediately give Marcia the correct name of the World Trade Center, their contempt for the Towers is displayed in the remark, “Oh, those?” (95). Blunt and outspoken, Claire even more boldly expresses her dislike, calling the buildings “[t]hose monstrosities” (95). These mothers’ negative comments quite faithfully reflect how New  Yorkers then beheld the new skyscrapers. As Petit (2014) recalls forty years later in an interview with Josh Warwick, the New Yorkers who “had initially struggled to love the Twin Towers” complimented him for giving the Towers “humanity” and “a human scale by dancing between them.” Although, in McCann’s novel, fictional Judge Solomon Soderberg (Claire’s husband) charges Petit a penny per floor, he thinks of Petit as “[a] monument in himself . . . a perfect New York one, a temporary one, up in the air, high above the city,” embellishing the “two towering beacons” built by the Port Authority (248). As faithfully recorded by McCann in the novel, Petit’s graceful walk of 1974 adorned the New York skyline and changed New Yorkers’ perception of the World Trade Center. Nearly three decades later, the Towers collapsed during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The collapse purified the once notorious World Trade Center and, in reverse, also altered the way people perceived and remembered Petit’s walk of 1974. It so happens, just as Blaine, a painter in McCann’s novel, tells his wife Lara, “We allow the present to work on the past” (134).1 Over the past two decades, Petit’s tightrope walk has been retold and re-remembered through memoirs, pictures,



documentaries, and films to pay tribute to the Towers, which have been transformed from a symbol of power, wealth, and capitalism to that of American national trauma. Since it has become almost impossible nowadays to talk about the events of 1974 without making reference to 9/11, Petit’s walk has acquired new connotations that would have been unthinkable in the 1970s. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Petit published To Reach the Clouds, which was adapted, in 2015, into a film, The Walk. In the memoir, Petit not only recounts his walk and the six-and-a-­ half years he spent planning it, but also shares his feelings about 9/11. As Petit (2003), in the last chapter, “Com’era, Doc’rea: In Memoriam,” mourns, “My towers became our towers. I saw them collapse—hurling, crushing thousands of lives. Disbelief preceded sorrow for the obliteration of the buildings, perplexity descended before rage at the unbearable loss of life” (221). “Com’era, Doc’rea”—where it was and as it was—markedly bespeaks Petit’s admiration for the Towers and his desire to see them rebuilt. He thus concludes his memoir with a promise, “When the towers again twin-tickle the clouds, I offer to walk again” (223). Petit’s mourning of the loss of the Towers and human lives manifests how, after 9/11, his perception of the Towers has been changed from a personalized site of a flying dream to the Ground Zero of collective trauma shared with many others. His wish to see the Towers rebuilt exactly as they were further expresses his nostalgic sentiment to return to the “good old days” prior to 9/11. Based faithfully on Petit’s memoir, pictures, and news reports, Mordicai Gerstein wrote and illustrated a children’s picture book, The Man Who Walked between the Towers (2003). Gerstein’s book is as much about 9/11 as it is about Petit’s wire-walk. As Emily Murphy (2014) asserts, Gerstein has “represented Philippe Petit’s walk between the Towers as a way of talking about 9/11” and “contributing to the conversation about mourning 9/11” (68). Targeting young children who witnessed neither Petit’s walk nor the collapse of the Towers in person, Gerstein’s book has been praised in the Washington Post for giving “[t]wo great lessons for a child of any age to learn”: “the determination of Petit to walk on the wire” and “the strength of a city to be whole again after disaster” (Herzog 2015). Gerstein’s award-winning book is so influential that even “British director James Marsh, for example, began working on the documentary film Man on Wire after reading Gerstein’s picture book to his two children” (Murphy 2014, 68).2 In a similar vein, as Ruth Mackay (2011) contends, Marsh’s Man on Wire dramatizes Petit’s walk “both as a shadow, and an inverted



version, of 11 September 2001” by “replacing the memory of terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center with a positive exploration of verticality” (3, 8). In doing so, Petit’s walk, as represented in Man on Wire, “can provide a palliative to the myriad traumas of 9/11” (Mackay 2011, 6). In the post-9/11 era, Petit’s1974 acrobatic feat is brought back to life and made present in various artistic pieces to serve as an antidote to trauma and terrorism. Most of Let the Great World Spin takes place in the New York of 1974, but Book Four is set in the post-9/11 era; however, 9/11 is not even mentioned once, although McCann is acutely aware that the legacy of Petit’s walk will forever be linked by his readers to 9/11 and the World Trade Center. Despite the fact that “there’s hardly a line in the novel about 9/11,” as McCann (2009c) tells the interviewer Brett Johnston, “it’s everywhere if the reader wants it to be.” McCann is right about the readers’ perceptions. Existing studies of McCann’s novel have so far paid more attention to the tightrope walker’s uncanny affinities with the terrorists and jumpers of 9/11 than to the walk’s historical backdrop of the 1970s. In the novel’s prologue, when people in the street first see a man standing at the height of a 110 stories on the precipice of the Towers, fear arises in some, who can be heard whispering, “there’d been a botched robbery, that he was some sort of cat burglar, that he’d taken hostages, he was an Arab, a Jew, a Cypriot, an IRA man . . .” (5). Highlighting this passage in a recent article, “‘Burning from the Inside Out,’” Irish literary critic Eóin Flannery (2017) contends that “[i]n some ways, Petit’s performative act of transgressive creativity and the ways in which it is linked here to other acts, and actors, of terror, foreshadow and obliquely allude to the historical impetus of McCann’s novel: the 9/11 attacks in New  York” (94). In an earlier essay, “Allegories of Falling and the 9/11 Novel,” Elizabeth S. Anker (2011) compares McCann’s Let the Great World Spin with other 9/11 novels that “contend with the World Trade Center suicides . . . by explicitly re-imagining them” (471). For Anker, in distinction with those novels, McCann’s novel alludes to the suicides on 9/11, “by obliquely summoning them through alternate dramas of human prowess and agility conducted against the backdrop of a metropolitan skyline” (471). Having similarly used the word “obliquely” in their essays, both Flannery and Anker posit that McCann’s New York novel of 1974 anticipates the attacks of 9/11, albeit circuitously. For Anker, however, Petit’s wire-walk reminds the novel’s readers of not merely the suicide bombers but also the victims who jumped to their



deaths from the Towers on 9/11. In the novel, not knowing who the man is, the watchers “began to speculate, would he jump, would he fall, [or] would he tiptoe along the ledge” (5). “A body” soon appears to be “sailing out into the middle of the air” (7), an image that reverberates with the novel’s contemporary readers, inevitably evoking memories of people falling or jumping from the burning and collapsing towers. Although the “falling body” turns out to have been “just a shirt” (7), it is reminiscent of the images of a floating shirt that has become a popular emblem of trauma in many 9/11 novels, as seen, for example, in the repetition of the phrase, “a shirt coming down,” at both the beginning and ending of Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007, 4, 88, 246). Allusions can also be made to Richard Drew’s well-known photo, “The Falling Man,” which captures an unidentified man falling vertically headfirst from the North Tower on September 11, 2001.3 It must be noted that McCann does not invent the image of a falling shirt in the novel. Instead, as seen in the actual footage used in Marsh’s (2008) documentary Man on Wire, on the morning of Petit’s walk, a black shirt actually did float down as Petit took his first step. McCann’s depiction is a faithful reflection of reality; yet, according to Martin Randall (2011), the real, empty black shirt recorded in Marsh’s documentary, like that fictionalized in McCann’s historical novel, bears “apparent” connection with “9/11 falling bodies . . . without explicit commentary” (91). Graley Herren (2014) even regards Man on Wire as “an oblique 9/11 memorial” (168). It seems that 9/11, a national traumatic event, continues to haunt the post-9/11 world. The irony is that the cultural and psychological impact of 9/11 is so profound and long-lasting that it has traveled backwards through time to penetrate the past, changing how we apprehend and remember the events long before 9/11 actually happened. With the change of time, the beauty of Petit’s walk is no longer comprehended in its original context of the 1970s as the very antithesis of the monstrosity of the Twin Towers. In sharp contrast to the spectacle of the falling man that symbolizes the destructive and violent crimes committed by terrorists, the image of Petit’s walk as a flying man has come to be seen as a historical icon that, to some of the novel’s reviewers, represents the power of healing and redemption in the post-9/11 era. For example, Flannery (2017) regards Petit’s walk as an “emboldened creative act” (95). He further argues that the walk “catalyzes” the possibility of “redemption” (95), to some extent suggesting the idea of saving good, innocent Americans from evil and suffering. Sandra Singer (2012) also



interprets McCann’s fictionalized Petit religiously as a “good, a larger-­ than-­life Christ figure” and maintains that he is “in this regard aligned with the Catholic monk John Corrigan” in the novel (209). According to Singer, “[t]he stylized cross (representing the wire and the pole) juxtaposed to a sketch of the city scape introduces each of the books of Let the Great World Spin and reinforces Christian iconography of death and redemption” (209–10). In “‘Anticipating the Fall,’” instead of emphasizing the connections between Petit’s walk and Christian redemption, Hamilton Carroll (2016) shifts his focus to the power of art to affirm life, but similarly posits that Petit’s act of daring creation “allow[s] us to see beyond death” (181). Anker (2011) shares these views when she claims that “McCann’s story is ultimately one of triumph and overcoming that rewrites 9/11’s sociocultural meanings to entail not shame and defeat but instead buoyant optimism” (472). Transmitting and transporting the benign and beautiful image of Petit’s walk into the present as part of a collectively shared cultural memory, McCann’s novel has been critically acclaimed as a successful piece of work that exerts affective influences on its post-9/11 readers and helps them to heal and conquer fear of falling and death. In particular, the documentary photo that McCann inserts into the novel is often treated as a mnemonic device that triggers nostalgia. The photo was, in reality, taken by Vic DeLuca, but, when it is inserted into the novel, it is credited to a fictional character without any further information. Not until Book Four, with its setting in October 2006, does the novel’s narrator comment on the photo: A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart. (325)

Time is usually said to flow like a river, but a photo can freeze a moment in time. DeLuca’s photo, which is also included in Petit’s own memoir, freezes Petit’s walk of 1974 into a perfect still. For Jaslyn, who, in the novel, possesses the photo thirty-two years after it was taken, the photo “strikes her as an enduring moment” of “beauty” (325). Associating the beauty of Petit’s walk to the old days prior to 9/11, Herren (2014) views



the photo that McCann uses in the novel as a symbol of “nostalgic prelapsarian fantasy, before the fall, the hope that we can rewind history and rewrite Yeats’ prophetic ‘The Second Coming,’ where this time things don’t fall apart, and the center can hold” (168, emphasis added). Carroll (2016) likewise argues that “the photo is no longer merely a visual representation of a historical event but has become . . . a nostalgic reminder of a prior time” (184, emphasis added). When Herren (2014) talks about “nostalgic prelapsarian fantasy” (168), he patently refers to restorative nostalgia inasmuch as “[r]estoration (from re-staure—re-establishment) signifies a return to the original stasis, to the prelapsarian moment” (Boym 2001, 49). Indeed, readers may be easily led to believe that McCann’s novel is meant to stimulate restorative nostalgia if they look only at Petit’s photo without attending to the life stories of its owner, or appreciate his walk purely as a transcendental symbol of beauty, redemption, and utopia without considering its historical backdrop. The danger of restorative nostalgia is that it replaces collective memory and individual memory with national memory. As Boym explains, restorative nostalgia entails national memory and advances “two main narrative plots—the restoration of origins and the conspiracy theory” (2001, 43). These two main plots are also popularly used in post-9/11 political discourse that pivots on American nation-building myths of innocence and exceptionalism. If Petit’s walk of 1974 is turned into a symbol of redemption and utopia to draw out feelings of nostalgia for a lost home secured for good Americans who have been wronged by evil terrorists, it might help consolidate the belief that 9/11 was the last moment of American innocence. As Phillip Barrish (2005) argues, what was lost on 9/11 was “a supposedly national sense of invulnerability” (92). This sense of invulnerability “appeared to connote something like physical virginity for the national body” (Barrish 2005, 92) in triggering a longing for the lost home, the mythical “Virgin Land,”4 although in reality it was built on white supremacists’ imaginary landscape of the American frontier occupied against the will of Indians. Another sense of the lost American innocence, as Barrish notes, originated from “a failure to grasp the nature and malevolent persistence of ‘evil’” (92). The notion of innocent and good Americans is derived in part from American moral sense of exceptionalism which can be traced to its Puritan roots and embodied metaphorically by the idea of New England as a “city on a hill,” which, in its extensive sense, means founding the U.S. as a model country for the rest of the world.5 It can also be related to “the conspiratorial worldview” that is “based on a



single transhistorical plot, a Manichaean battle of good and evil and the inevitable scapegoating of the mythical enemy” (Boym 2001, 43). It was partly out of this moral sense and in accordance with the conspiracy theory that the War on Terror was declared and justified by the Bush administration as a means of restoring the lost purity of the homeland and, in the name of liberty and democracy, eradicating all that the U.S. regarded as “evil.”6 Petit’s midair acrobatics are truly beautiful, just as utopia is, but the U.S. is, after all, not utopia, and neither is the past. Even if there were no later trauma and the World Trade Center had not collapsed, how do we explain the arrogance and monstrous homogenizing power that critics had long associated with the Twin Towers before 9/11? If American innocence was lost on 9/11 and thus should be reclaimed, how do we account for the fact that Americans “had been widely reported to have lost their innocence after other national traumas as well, from the Civil War to Pearl Harbor to the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War” (Barrish 2005, 92–93)? McCann treats these questions seriously and addresses them in relation to a denial of history born out of a lack of historical knowledge, social amnesia, political repression, and unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. In what follows, I will demonstrate that Let the Great World Spin does not naively rest on a nostalgic prelapsarian fantasy, and neither does it disregard nostalgia as a concept. Rather, to some extent, McCann’s novel concurs with Pickering and Keightley’s contention that we should reformulate nostalgia “in terms of a distinction between the desire to return to an earlier state or idealized past, and the desire not to return but to recognize aspects of the past as the basis for renewal and satisfaction in the future” (2006, 921). The novel confronts restorative nostalgia by contextualizing Petit’s wire-walk expressly against the historical backdrop of the 1970s, with a focus on the Vietnam War, racial bigotry, and financial inequality. It further illustrates, in each of the four books, how Petit’s walk shapes collective memory rather than a holistic national memory that, as exemplified by the Bush administration’s evocation of a lost home, allows only the single narrative line of a trajectory of American exceptionalism. Taking cues from Maurice Halbwachs (Chap. 2), Boym argues that reflective nostalgia leans toward a collective memory based on “the common landmarks of everyday life” that “constitute shared social frameworks of individual recollections” (2001, 53). Petit’s walk functions in a way similar to “the common landmarks of everyday life” that Boym and Halbwachs



talk about. Using the common frame of Petit’s walk as its reference, McCann’s novel tells different yet interlinked stories of survival and illustrates how Petit’s walk mediates between collective memory and individual memory, thereby inspiring readers to think more critically about the questions of nostalgia, memory, and history from political, psychoanalytical, cultural, and sociological perspectives.

The Vietnam War, Mourning, and Melancholia Over the past decade, the dominant paradigm for interpreting McCann’s novel has been to view the past either traumatically in the shadow of 9/11 or nostalgically as utopia. It is true that, in the interview with Englander, McCann (2009a) affirms that the impetus for writing the novel came from 9/11, but he also claims that “it doesn’t have to be a 9/11 novel at all,” suggesting, “It could also be just a book about New York in 1974” (363). A closer examination of the novel shows that, instead of depicting a utopian past and lamenting the loss of American innocence, McCann calls into question the exceptionalist rhetoric of innocence by confronting its readers with American involvement in Vietnam over decades. While Petit’s walk is the main focus of the prologue and the two short intersections that divide the first three of the novel’s four books, it is “a subject of discussion and of thought for a number of the novel’s main characters” (177), as Carroll (2016) has rightly pointed out. 9/11 may be “everywhere if the reader wants it to be,” as McCann (2009c) tells Johnston, yet there are also subtle affinities between Petit’s walk and the Vietnam War that McCann repeatedly returns to in the novel. As discussed previously, for some of the novel’s reviewers and literary critics, the viewers’ speculations of the unidentified man in the sky as “an Arab, a Jew, a Cypriot, an IRA man” (McCann 2009a, 5) conjure up the uncanny specter of the terrorists of 9/11. And yet, seldom, if ever, is it noted that in the same passage, just two lines after the aforementioned quote, the viewers also suggest that he was a protester and he was going to hang a slogan, he would slide it from the tower ledge, leave it there to flutter in the breeze, like some giant piece of sky laundry—NIXON OUT NOW! REMEMBER ‘NAM, SAM! INDEPENDENCE FOR INDOCHINA! (6)



Clearly “Nam” refers to Vietnam, and McCann here depicts an anti-­ Vietnam War slogan that would have been commonplace in the streets of New York in 1974, when, due to the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon became the first American president ever to resign.7 During his term, partly in response to the anti-war movement, President Nixon signed a peace agreement in Paris in January, 1973, to end American involvement in the war in Vietnam, at that time the longest war that the U.S. had fought.8 If “Sam” in the slogan is identified with “Uncle Sam,” a popular symbol of the U.S., “Remember ‘Nam, Sam!” could be interpreted as McCann’s call for the commemoration of the Vietnam War, in order to understand the idealism that led Americans to enter Vietnam in the first place, and the country’s struggle to find meaning in defeat. The irony of the post-9/11 nostalgia for an earlier time is that, while many of the novel’s contemporary readers wish to return to the 1970s through recollecting Petit’s walk, people of that time were told to move forward and leave Vietnam behind. To remember, or not to remember, that is the question. It is not only a question about recollections of the past but also one about orientation toward the future in light of mourning. Idealizing American innocence and exceptionalism, unreflective nostalgia post 9/11 and the amnesia of the Vietnam past are like two sides of one coin. They both show symptoms of national melancholia. In his seminal article “Mourning and Melancholia,” Sigmund Freud (1954) reminds us that both mourning and melancholia are the reactions to “the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on” (243). When faced with interminable grief, the melancholic “makes every conceivable effort to retain the lost object” (Eng and Han 2000, 672), making plain the melancholic nature of restorative nostalgia. Instead of maintaining an ongoing relationship with the lost object or ideal, reflective forms of nostalgia engage in mourning, which “involves ‘working through’ the past and integrating the split off ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of the past into a coherent whole” (Gobodo-Madikizela 2012, 259). However, according to Tobey C.  Herzog (1992), in the late 1970s, “Americans wanted to forget Vietnam” (213). The reason for social amnesia is almost self-evident, as Jonathan Schell (2007) rhetorically asks, “which country commemorates its defeats?” (21). The fact is, as Bruce Franklin spells out, “[t]hroughout the decades that the United States was waging war in Vietnam, no incoming president uttered the word ‘Vietnam’ in his inaugural address” (2007, 40). When, in 1989, a newly elected president actually said anything about



the Vietnam War, what President George H. W. Bush said was, “forget it” (Franklin 2007, 40). In the past, forgetting Vietnam may have been suggested by politicians as an easy way to encourage the American people to move forward, but it also meant that there would be no accountability for the hundreds of thousands of people who perished during the war, be they Americans or Vietnamese. In hindsight, the post-9/11 restorative nostalgia for a lost home and an idealized past, as well as the retaliatory wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, might not have been so easily called for if the history of the Vietnam War, instead of being repressed, had been faced. “There is some truth,” Derek Hook (2012) acknowledges, “to the view that nostalgia is about the present rather than the past . . . occasioned as it is by current anxieties, discomforts, or perceived losses, hence the gloss of nostalgia” (227). Yet, it must be noted that nostalgia, based on selective reminiscences of the past, may also function as “a protection against such anxieties of history” and become what Freud terms “screen-memories,” namely “a compromise between the pressure exerted by troubling past experiences that could not easily be retrieved, and the need to keep such memories at bay” (Hook 2012, 233). Against political repression and social amnesia regarding the anxieties of history, McCann’s novel provokes, through grieving parents’ and traumatized Vietnam veterans’ struggles with melancholia and mourning, America’s troubling past experiences of maintaining and losing innocence and ideals. While, from the contemporary readers’ perspective, Petit-the-flying-­ man is an inverted version of the falling man of 9/11, in McCann’s novel he is specifically juxtaposed with other flying men, namely the Vietnam War fighter pilots, who have not received as much critical attention as fictionalized Petit has. McCann weaves Petit’s walk into the Vietnam bereaved mothers’ support group conversations. As mentioned previously, on the morning of Petit’s walk, Marcia is on her way to Claire’s apartment, and, standing in front of the ferry, she sees “a helicopter” and “[a] man in the air, walking,” as she tells the other mothers when she arrives (91, 92). Obviously what Marcia sees echoes the moment captured in the reprinted photo of Petit. Yet, instead of feeling beauty, she feels “dread” (94) because the helicopter and the man hanging in the air remind her of her son, who sacrificed his life as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. Marcia is, on the one hand, “thinking about how Mike Junior would hang a much better turn than that, how he’d handle the craft so much better .  .  . the Evel Knievel of helicopters, his sergeant said so” (94). On the other hand, she



recalls the tragic death of her son, who “smashed his head awkwardly, broke his neck, no flames, even, just a freak fall, the helicopter still intact” (96, emphasis added). Having been compared with the man in the air, Mike Junior serves as an example of a romanticized vision of U.S. military omnipotence and the society’s expectations for the ideal warrior who is “very brave,” as Marcia proudly describes her son (97). In Vietnam War Stories, Herzog (1992) asserts that many American soldiers, like Mike Junior in McCann’s novel, entered the Vietnam War with “visions of courage and heroism, a secure sense of purpose and control of their destiny, and an almost ‘sporting’ view of the war” (13). Sadly, Mike Junior’s “freak fall” turns him from a brave flying man into a helpless falling man. With bitterness and rage, as the narrator tells us, Marcia “knows a hell of a hell of a hell of a lot about her helicopters, her hell of helicopters” (96). Replacing the ascending act of flying with the descending one of falling and repeating “hell” half a dozen times through Marcia’s curse, McCann satirizes young American soldiers’ naive innocence and ignorance of the brutality of war. In the novel, in addition to Marcia, several other mothers in mourning for their sons gradually become disillusioned with the American defense of democracy and freedom in Vietnam, where their sons all died too early and too young to move beyond innocence. The idea of American exceptionalism, as Tami R.  Davis and Sean M.  Lynn-Jones (1987) highlight, “lies at the heart of the persistent moralism prevalent in American foreign policy” (20–21). During the years the Vietnam War was fought, American national leaders believed the U.S. was obligated to play the “international role” of “protector from communism and defender of democracy” (Herzog 1992, 69). Even after the war was over, President Ronald Reagan still attempted to recover the image of the U.S. as “a shining city on a hill” which was unique in upholding liberty, a special American virtue that “elevates America to a higher moral plane than other countries” (Davis and Lynn-Jones 1987, 20). In Let the Great World Spin, McCann sets out to debunk this deep-rooted faith in an American superior moral sense of liberty by showing how some young Americans joined the war in Vietnam out of sheer boredom. Gloria, a middle-class African American mother of three sons, remembers what her eldest son, Clarence, tells her before going to the war: “[H]e said one or two things about liberty, but mostly he was doing it because he was bored” (313). And then the other two sons, “Brandon and Jason said about the same thing too when their draft cards were dropped in our mailbox” (313). The irony is that, when Gloria



“told them to be on their merry way,” all three sons “flew off,” and “[n]one of them came back” (313). Through Gloria’s grief at her three sons’ death, McCann shows that dying because of boredom is absurd and not morally superior at all. In the chapter titled “Miró, Miró, on the Wall,” Claire cannot shake the walking man out of her mind after hearing Marcia talk about him. Petit triggers Claire’s critical thinking about what freedom truly is, as well as her memories of the day when the sergeant came to her house to report Joshua’s death. From Claire’s perspective, the determination of Petit to pursue his dream and to walk freely in the air without caring “what if he hits somebody down below” (105) mirrors that of the U.S. to spread American ideals around the world without considering the real needs of others. As Claire murmurs to herself, “All this talk of freedom. Nonsense, really. Freedom can’t be given, it must be received” (108). Pondering the contradiction of forced freedom, Claire at the same time thinks about Petit and the sergeant. Her mental images of the two men overlap to the extent that they become almost indistinguishable. Therefore, when she joins the other mothers’ conversations about Petit and suddenly tells them, “I’m just thinking about that poor man” (108), they are all confused: --What man? says Gloria. --Oh, the man who came here, she says suddenly. --Who’s that? [. . .] --You mean the tightrope man was here? --No, no. --What man, Claire? [. . .] --The man who told me. --What man? --The man who told you what, Claire? --You know. That man. (109)

For Claire, the sergeant, like Petit, brings freedom into question. She remembers that on the day when Solomon wanted to know what had happened to their son, the sergeant kept saying that “he wasn’t at liberty” (111). The sergeant’s reply irritated Solomon, as Claire recalls her husband’s angry words, “None of us are at liberty, are we, really? I mean, when you think about it, Sergeant, none of us are free” (111). If, according to



Solomon, no one is really free, the idea of Americans fighting in Vietnam in the name of freedom becomes extremely dubious, if not ridiculous. Claire thus appropriates and changes one of the most famous lines in the fairy tale, Snow White, when she asks, “Miró, Miró, on the wall, who’s the dead-est of them all?” (112). Ending the chapter with Claire’s question and a “stupid, endless menu of death” (113) that consists of a long list of causes of deaths that covers nearly two-thirds of a page, McCann implies that complete freedom exists only in fairy tales. In reality, as evidenced by Petit’s walk and the Vietnam War, the pursuit of freedom is often haunted by the risk of death. Solomon, the only father that the novel portrays, stands in sharp contrast to Claire and the other mothers. Even though Solomon, upon learning of his son’s death, questions the sergeant about liberty, he makes every conceivable effort, both afterwards and beforehand, to retain the idea of a noble cause for which the U.S. sent Joshua and other young Americans to Vietnam. To support his son, Judge Solomon always gives the anti-war protesters in court “the stiffest sentences he could” (89). In his eyes, the protesters are “weak, guileless, cowardly” (89), the perfect foil for heroic American soldiers in Vietnam. After Joshua’s death, Solomon knows that he “had to learn that his son was gone,” but his personal loss was worthwhile because “[i]n the end Joshua had been a steward, a custodian of the truth” (263). The truth which Solomon takes as gospel is that “the war had been just, proper, right,” for it “protected the very cornerstones of freedom” and “was fought for the very ideals that were under assault in his court every day” (263). It seems that, at the personal psychic level, Solomon has learned to let go and is in mourning for his beloved son. And yet, at the symbolic level, he experiences melancholic nostalgia, like the aforementioned national leaders, still holding tightly onto his loved objects—American ideals—without accepting the country’s defeat in Vietnam. Falling ill of melancholia, Solomon’s “love for the object—a love which cannot be given up though the object itself is given up—takes refuges in narcissistic identification” (Freud 1954, 251). In the novel’s historical setting of 1974, Solomon’s inability to mourn for the lost American ideals leads him to believe that, even if the U.S. has agreed to withdraw from Vietnam, it is “[a] time to kill and a time to heal” (263). Solomon’s healing by killing is a melancholic reaction to loss, not an affirmation of American ideals. In the novel, it is not only Solomon but also returned veterans who embody the country’s melancholia and inability to mourn. In the third



chapter of Book Two, through the first-person narration of Tillie, McCann reveals how some returned Vietnam veterans have been so traumatized by the war that they “just wanted to pop” and “just needed to forget” (208). They are Tillie’s “best clients” (208), indulging in sex with “Miss Bliss” (Tillie’s nickname). Though working as a street prostitute, Tillie feels as if she were providing “social service” by comforting the veterans (209). She praises herself for “[d]oing my thing for America” (209). To some extent, Tillie’s comment indicates the inability of both the American government and society to help returned veterans to overcome PTSD and readjust to civilian life. Other veterans, much like Judge Solomon, go to great lengths to protect their conception of American ideals so as to keep their self-­ image intact, even if they are physically injured. When Lara reads about President Nixon’s resignation on the front page of the newspaper, she recalls her ex-boyfriend’s “campaigning for Nixon in ’68” (129). The boy was a Vietnam veteran who “came home with the thousand-yard stare and a piece of bullet lodged perfectly in his spine” (129). In his wheelchair, he was “going around the inner city, still giving his approval to all he couldn’t understand” and “plastered his wheelchair with stickers. NIXON LOVES JESUS” (129, 130). He also seemed to be blind to Nixon’s “repeated lies” (30), namely the President’s rumored treachery.9 “[S]tunned” by her ex-boyfriend’s “ignorance” (129, 130), Lara ended the relationship. Unfortunately, even after years, her ex-boyfriend remains politically ignorant and blames her for breaking up with him, writing at the end of a letter to her: “Fuck you, you heartless bitch” (130). In the letter, Lara becomes the guilty party, while her ex-boyfriend keeps his innocence intact, refusing to grow up, take the blame, and acknowledge his own naivety. Both Lara’s ex-boyfriend and Tillie’s solider clients are melancholic even if the former expresses nostalgia, whereas the latter choose to forget. None of them is willing to face loss and defeat. Even if the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and has been almost consciously forgotten in its aftermath, the legacy of Vietnam lives on, as reflected in its enduring relevance as a cultural and political reference point for the War on Terror. If McCann’s novel refers to the traumatic events of 9/11 obliquely, it also suggests a comparison between the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCann (2009a) claims in an interview with Englander that he carefully chose the two years, 1974 and 2006, to represent different points of American innocence (363). The first three books of the novel show anti-war protests, war casualties, bereaved families, and traumatized veterans, thereby marking 1974 as a year during



which American beliefs in exceptionalism and innocence were lost. Book Four then fast-forwards to Jaslyn’s narrative in 2006, without telling readers what happened during the three-decade interval. It is as if the Vietnam War and its aftermath were quickly forgotten, or did not matter at all. Neither is there any direct reference to the Vietnam War in Jaslyn’s narrative. Nonetheless, a close look at Book Four reveals that moving forward quickly is not tantamount to rapid progress; rather, it may induce regression to the repressed past. Book Four shows that, in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. entered international conflicts in the Middle East, as it once did in Vietnam, in the name of liberty and democracy. Jaslyn’s sister, Janice, is among the American troops “shipped to the embassy in Baghdad” in 2004, and in 2006, as Jaslyn mentions in passing, there were also “attacks on Afghanistan” following the war against Iraq (343, 341). “The invasion of Iraq,” according to Franklin (2007), “accelerated the continuing militarization of American culture, thus allowing us to ‘kick’ the ‘Vietnam syndrome’” (43). The Vietnam syndrome is, as Jon Roper (2007) puts it, “the attitude of those liberal realists traumatized by the war who claim that the American public will not support further military action abroad” (17). Those 1970s liberal realists would have been surprised to learn how forgetful the contemporary American public is about the Vietnam War and how quickly the country’s leaders revived American exceptionalism after another so-called end of innocence on 9/11, quickly recovering self-­ confidence and setting out to rebuild nostalgically the imaginary American homeland. As Franklin (2007) points out, “At the end of combat in Vietnam in 1975, a Harris poll indicated that a mere 20% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 trusted the leaders of the military” (43). And yet, “[i]n December 2002, as the second Bush Administration was ramping up for a renewed invasion of Iraq, a Harris poll indicated that this number had more than tripled to 64%” (Franklin 2007, 43). As McCann’s novel draws to its end, Janice has served in Iraq for two years. When she says that she “wanted nothing to do with the past” because “[t]he past embarrassed her” (341), she may speak for some young Americans who at first supported the Iraq war. It is not clear in the novel what it is in the past that embarrasses her, but a metaphor may give a clue, “The past was a jet that was coming in with dead bodies from the Middle East” (341). In other words, the embarrassing past that Janice wants to have nothing to do with seems likely to be her two years of military service in Iraq, where she, like the American soldiers in Vietnam, witnesses war casualties and is



confronted with the disconnect between the reality of military conflict and her sense of American idealism. The Iraq war, which has become “the second longest” American war (Franklin 2007, 41), proves “the staying power of [the Vietnam War’s] defeats, which, forced into mental shadows, thrive there and spring out again into the light of day unexpectedly” (Schell 2007, 21). In the end, McCann’s novel does not call for its readers’ nostalgic imagination to rewind history and to rebuild the Towers. Rather, it suggests the importance of mourning the past, in order to recognize the anxieties of history and to move beyond a conception of American innocence that different generations of Americans have claimed to own, lose, and then attempted to recover.

Be/longing, Whiteness, and Guilt The paradox of nostalgia lies not only in its constitutive nature of utopia and melancholia but also in its ambivalent attachment to longing and belonging. As Boym (2001) explains, Nostalgia is paradoxical in the sense that longing can make us more empathetic toward fellow humans, yet the moment we try to repair longing with belonging, the apprehensions of loss with a rediscovery of identity, we often part ways and put an end to mutual understanding. (xvi)

To some extent, the nostalgic sentiment evoked by the post-9/11 notion of the homeland reflects such a paradox. As Amy Kaplan (2003), in “Homeland Insecurities,” puts it, the homeland “connotes an inexorable connection to a place deeply rooted in the past” (84). On the one hand, homeland security is a collectively shared longing that, since 9/11, has been elicited to unite Americans to rebuild their lost home. On the other hand, based ideologically on American exceptionalism, the homeland is exclusionary in essence. It “contributes to making the life of immigrants terribly insecure,” such as when “the Patriot Act has attacked and abrogated the rights of so-called aliens and immigrants” (Kaplan 2003, 87). For example, many Muslim Americans, as will be explored in Chap. 6, do not feel at home in the U.S. post 9/11 and are not even allowed to commemorate the event like white Americans do. Looking backwards, Edmund Fong (2015), in American Exceptionalism and the Remains of Race, reminds us that, throughout history, “the project of revitalizing and reaffirming American exceptionalism rhetorically depends upon continually



disavowing race in its material remains and identifications” (4). As discussed previously, the nostalgic notion of the homeland and its ideological foundation—American exceptionalism—preserves American innocence by eliding the history of internal violence perpetrated against Native Americans. Anti-Semitism and Japanese American internment, which Chaps. 3 and 4 dealt with, also exemplify the U.S. dark history of institutionalized exclusion. Taking note of American foreign policy in Vietnam and the Middle East, McCann’s novel at the same time suggests a rethinking of American exceptionalism in light of whiteness and guilt by returning to the history of slavery, racial bigotry, and socio-economic inequalities in the 1970s, as well as examining the remains of race in contemporary multicultural American society. As illustrated in McCann’s novel, the same trigger of memories and symbols—Petit’s walk and photo—can cultivate both restorative and reflective nostalgia. To better understand reflective forms of nostalgia, attention should be paid not only to the beauty of the walk itself but to the life story of the photo owner. Jaslyn is an African American, whose mother died on the same day Petit walked on the tightrope. Opening Book Four, the commentary on Petit’s photo adds a nostalgic touch to Jaslyn’s narrative in 2006. As “one of her favorite possessions,” she keeps the photo, “along with other mementoes: a set of pearls, a lock of her sister’s hair” (326). Even though, as mentioned previously, Petit’s photo “strikes her as an enduring moment” of “beauty” (325), Book Four quickly shifts from the opening remarks on the photo to the accounts of Jaslyn’s present life interspersed with a few sudden flashbacks. As McCann (2009a) makes clear in his interview with Englander, “In fact, the tightrope walker doesn’t matter at all in the end of the story. The story comes right down to the ground, in the very dark of night, in the roughest part of New  York” (362). In the novel, what McCann calls the “roughest part of New York” is the Bronx, where Jaslyn’s childhood home is, ironically just underneath the World Trade Center, which was proclaimed by officials at the time to be the hub of international finance and a beacon of hope. At the heart of darkness in New York, the Bronx is home to “the cast-offs of New York— the whores, the hustlers, the hopeless” (15), many of whom, like Jaslyn’s mother and grandmother, are black. It is an area, as revealed in Ciaran’s first-person flashbacks, where “[t]here had been beatings and random murders” and where “being white was a bad idea” (59). If, as discussed previously, Petit’s walk between the Towers is so beautiful that it arguably elicits restorative nostalgia, Book Four’s not focusing on it and instead, on



its owner’s life story, redirects the reader’s attention, from a lost idealized home and past that is supposed to be shared nationally and transhistorically by all, to individual memories and localized homes in dark, racially segregated New York. At the same time, history, public events, and the collective social life of African Americans are inserted into the novel’s construction of Jaslyn’s individual memory of childhood, her private self and home. Entangled with Jaslyn’s, the recollections of many others like Gloria, Claire, and Ciaran, provide a lens through which to look more deeply into Jaslyn’s longing for the past, her remaking of the self and orientation toward the future through reflective nostalgia. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear what it is that Jaslyn yearns for. Through endless reminiscences initially triggered by Petit’s photo, Jaslyn longs less for a lost past or home than for a sense of belonging. The narrative present of Book Four begins with a scene in which Jaslyn is waiting in a security line in Little Rock, Arkansas, and meets an Italian man. When the man introduces himself as a doctor who worked for Doctors Without Borders, Jaslyn thinks, first of all, of the borders she cannot even cross in her own presumably liberal and multicultural country. She bitterly recalls the racial stereotypes imposed on her, and the narrator tells us, “She has grown tired of the people who tell her that she’s not a normal African-­ American, as if there were only one great big normal box that everyone had to pop out of” (327). Her inner thinking then further reveals her troubled past, as she wonders if she should tell the man that “she comes from a long line of hookers, that her grandmother died in a prison cell, that she and her sister were adopted . . . and that she changed her name from Jazzlyn to Jaslyn” (329). When they continue their conversations in a taxi from the airport, Jaslyn has two flashbacks: one of her childhood spent with her adoptive mother Gloria, and the other of her teenage qualms about love and sex, worried because “her mother and grandmother had worked the streets” and “she thought it might rebound on her someday” (333). In other parts of Book Four, when she is alone or visiting the now elderly Claire on her sickbed, Jaslyn’s narrative present continues to be interrupted by her recollections of the past. Unlike her sister who “wanted nothing to do with the past,” Jaslyn “wanted to know more” (341). For example, she recalls flying to Ireland to find Ciaran, whose brother, Corrigan, died with her mother, as well as the one time she returned to the Bronx “to know where it was that her mother and grandmother had strolled” (345). When she arrived back in the neighborhood that she had left at five, “she was home again, but it didn’t feel like a



homecoming” (346). Jaslyn’s countless flashbacks are so sudden, fragmentary, and short that they actually shed little light on what her family, past life, and home were like. To quote Boym, Jaslyn’s nostalgia “thrives in algia, the longing itself, and delays the homecoming—wistfully, ironically, desperately” (2001, xviii). Jaslyn’s longing for the past is palpable because she is often retrospective and wants to know more, and yet her changing her name, complaints about racial stereotypes, and feeling simultaneously homely and unhomely upon returning to her childhood neighborhood manifests her ambivalence toward her family and ethnic identity. Her nostalgia is bitter and sweet. In the novel, Jaslyn’s family background provides a bitter glimpse into the long history of American exceptionalism that is interwoven with and opposed to non-white races at the same time. The fact that Jaslyn’s mother, Jazzlyn, grandmother, Tillie, and her great grandmother were all streetwalkers is especially worth noting. In “American Exceptionalism Reaffirmed,” Seymour Martin Lipset (1991) discusses both the positive and negative aspects of American exceptionalism. The presumably positive aspects are “our extreme emphasis on individualism, our mistrust of central authority, our strong preference for public policies that promote equality of opportunity over those that promote equality of outcome” (Lipset 1991, 30). These might be reasons why so many immigrants leave their homeland and come to the U.S. in the first place, to have the same opportunities as the whites do to pursue the American dream. The irony of the “special traits of the country as a uniquely liberal, bourgeois, individualistic, and socially egalitarian society” is that they also “lead individuals and groups to serve social needs which are outside the law, in occupations usually described as ‘rackets,’” such as “prostitution, bootlegging, drug selling, and gambling” (Lipset 1991, 31, 32). The rackets in particular “have attracted members of minority ethnic groups who are strongly motivated by the American emphasis on achievement, but who are limited in their access to legitimate means of succeeding” (Lipset 1991, 32–33). In McCann’s novel, Tillie’s mother works the street, and Tillie does, too, as if, as she confides, “[h]ooking was born in me” (199). The same happens to Tillie’s daughter, Jazzlyn. This explains why Tillie says, “[Y]ou’re your mother and her mother before her,” although her own mother warns her, “Don’t you do what I done, Tillie” (219, 199). Worst of all, Jazzlyn not only works on the street but is high “on the horse” (218), namely on heroin. Tillie’s first-person narration emphatically repeats the following sentence, “This is the house that Horse built” (219), which is also the title



of the chapter which contains her narration. For three generations, their house has never been “Home Sweet Home” even if their home country is confidently proclaimed to be the promised land of the American dream. Because, judged from the history of her family, life seems predestined to misery, as if a curse had been put on them, teenage Jaslyn once worried that “it might rebound on her” (333) and that she might not be able to escape the fate of being a prostitute. American extreme emphasis on individualism and equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome has led to ignorance or neglect of institutionalized exclusions. In the novel, when she sees Jazzlyn, Tillie, and other street prostitutes in the neighborhood, Gloria, herself an African American living in the Bronx, is so heavily influenced by American individualism and liberalism that she has no sympathy for them. In her view, “They had their pimps and their white men who felt sorry for them. That was their life. They’d chosen it” (321, emphasis added). Contradictions in Gloria’s thinking reflect the paradox of American exceptionalism and race. Her awareness of white liberal guilt reveals that prostitution and drug addiction are not simply choices of personal will but rather long-term consequences of structural constraints and racial inequality in American society. It is surprising that Gloria, whose grandmother was a slave, would think that Jazzlyn and Tillie have freely chosen to work on the streets. When, after a group meeting, Claire offers to “pay” her to stay longer, Gloria is painfully reminded of her family’s past of slavery: “My grandmother was a slave. Her mother too. My great-grandfather was a slave” (299). It is as if slaving were genetically inherited in Gloria’s family, just as Tillie is led to almost believe that “hooking was born in me” (199). Even though Claire expresses deep regrets and guilt for what she said, her offering to pay Gloria bespeaks the residue of race in modern American society long after slavery was abolished. The incident teaches Gloria a lesson: “If you start forgetting, you’re already lost” (299). And yet, even if Gloria insists on remembering the history of slavery, she at first does not seem to connect with other African Americans. To some extent, her ignorance of the colored street prostitutes’ plight manifests the dominance and prevalence of the “discourses of American exceptionalism and democratic myths of liberty, individualism, and inclusion” that “force a misremembering of these exclusions” (Eng and Han 2000, 673). Bringing to the fore the contradictions in Gloria’s thinking, McCann suggests that it does not suffice to simply remember the history of slavery. More importantly, as Jaslyn’s family history shows, even though slavery had been abolished



more than a century earlier, there is still “the unfinished struggle for racial equality and racial justice that stands as an obstacle to the realization of American exceptionalism” (Fong 2015, 4). The residue of race, albeit in more obscure forms, lingers in the twenty-first century that Jaslyn lives in. In the novel, in addition to referencing Petit, McCann alludes to two other historical figures. They are African American activists, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, who serve to historicize the novel’s African American fictional characters’ personal stories and to shed light on the relationship between the American dream and whiteness. As McCann (2009a) explains in a reader’s guide attached to the end of the novel, “[t]he more I worked it [Petit’s walk], the more interested I became in the ordinary people on the street, the ones who walked a tightrope just one inch off the ground” (359). In her first-person narration, Tillie states that she is “the first nigger absolute regular on that stroll,” leading people to jokingly call her “Rosa Parks” (201). However, unlike Parks, Tillie does not believe in political or social change, and neither does she take part in public protests. She yields to life, pleads guilty of robbery, and, eventually, commits suicide in prison after her daughter’s death and Gloria’s adoption of her two granddaughters. On the contrary, in African American history, Parks was an activist in the civil rights movement, best known for her leading role in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Parks collaborated with other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, who, in 1963, helped organize the March on Washington, where he delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream.” In the novel, Claire recalls that when Dr. King was shot, she sent what her father called “guilt money” to King’s church in Atlanta (86, emphasis added). Claire did not care if her donation infuriated her father, who had once declared, “I like Negroes, yessir, I think everyone should own one” (78). For Claire, “[t]here was plenty to be guilty for” (86, emphasis added). Although unnamed, whiteness is suggested to be what Claire feels guilty for, as she believes that “[s]he should have sent her whole inheritance” (86). Claire has inherited from her father not merely money but whiteness, which grants her the privilege to enjoy freedom, as opposed to oppression and discrimination. Moreover, Melanie Suchet (2007), in “Unraveling Whiteness,” asserts that “the ideal to be free, to remake oneself in whatever way one chooses—the American dream—is the ideal of whiteness” (869). Yet in the novel, as discussed previously, Gloria seems to be as optimistic about the American dream as Dr. King (1963), who, despite noting the “difficulties and frustrations of the moment,” asserts in his speech, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply



rooted in the American dream.” Ingrained in the notions of freedom, democracy, and equality, Dr. King’s dream is, however, not built on American innocence and exceptionalism, and neither does it make whiteness invisible. Rather, King rewrites the American dream by evoking white liberal guilt, as Claire has deeply felt, and calls for actions and solidarity to make his dream come true in the future. In contrast to Claire’s white left-liberal guilt, Blaine and Lara’s complete exoneration of their actions shows that, even if whiteness is not seen or named explicitly in the novel, it is present almost everywhere. Jazzlyn dies in a car accident, so the hit-and-run driver, Blaine, is without question guilty of the crime, and his wife, Lara, is the witness and accomplice. However, what Blaine keeps saying to his wife is, “forget it” (132), echoing what President Bush Senior once said about the Vietnam War. For Blaine, the car accident is not his fault, but Jazzlyn’s. As he explains to Lara, “She wasn’t even wearing any clothes. I mean, maybe she was blowing him or something. I bet that’s it. She was sucking him off” (121). In order to gloss over his crime, Blaine confounds right and wrong and uses Jazzlyn’s possible sin of prostitution as an excuse. At first Lara is disgusted at the way Blaine repeatedly denies his fault. She feels haunted by Jazzlyn’s ghost, as she relates in first-person narration, “[T]here she was, still looking at me” (131). Lara’s guilty conscience pushes her to find Jazzlyn’s home and family, and yet, when she is in the Bronx, she feels out of place. Being “a sheltered girl,” as Lara puts it, she “would never have gone into a place like this” (140). What shelters her, very much like Claire, is whiteness, as she, earlier in the story, introduces herself as a “Midwestern girl, blond child of privilege, my father the owner of an automobile empire” (124). Lara’s case makes plain that whiteness does not refer to merely skin color or racial identity, but is also “a lived experience” (Suchet 2007, 868). Protected from the miserable experiences that Jazzlyn has grown used to, Lara has been shielded from the Bronx, which, in Carian’s words, is “the shitbox of what the world really was” (15). Learning what the world really is upon arriving at the Bronx, Lara loses her innocence. Yet, when she later goes to Jazzlyn’s funeral and discovers that Jazzlyn really is a prostitute, and most of the attendees are black, she temporarily recovers her lost innocence and feels relieved, “a momentary sigh of gratitude” (141). Somehow Jazzlyn’s being a black prostitute lessens Blain and Lara’s crime. Blaine and Lara are never convicted, as if a black prostitute were outside of law and could be killed by anyone.



Jazzlyn and Corrigan’s deaths pose questions of whether redemption is possible and where lies the hope and longing for redemption. In The Fall out of Redemption, Joseph Acquisto (2015)  defines “redemption” in a traditional theological sense which calls into mind the image of “the innocent God taking on the sins of guilty humanity and dying to redeem them” (1). At Corrigan and Jazzlyn’s funeral, the black preacher preserves the hope of divine redemption. Aware of slavery and the residue of race that forced Jazzlyn into prostitution, the preacher criticizes “the house of justice,” which “had been vandalized” (145). He claims that, in the battle between goodness and evil in the secular world, Jazzlyn “had seen those distant hills of goodness” and is “on her way to a place where there were no governments to chain her or enslave her, no miscreants to demand the wrong thing .  .  .” (145). The place that the preacher lauds is Heaven, where “the windows will open to the sky and your heart will be purified and you will take wing” (146). The preacher’s vision of “the spirit being triumphant in the body’s fall” (144) expresses his nostalgia for an older form of religious faith, since, as Acquisto (2015) explains, “the main currents of art and thought since the mid-nineteenth century tended to discard . . . in favor of new secular models of inspiration” (1). Nevertheless, listening to the preacher’s talk about God’s redemption and mankind’s spiritual flight to Heaven, Lara “had a sudden, terrible vision of Jazzlyn flying through the wind-shield” (146). Lara’s vision takes the readers’ eyes “away from the purported ‘paradise’ of the virtual and pushes us more solidly toward the world of the actual” (Acquisto 2015, 8). At the same time, it conveys Lara’s loss of faith in religion and in divine redemption. Paradoxically, out of her realization of the impossibility of redemption Lara’s troubled subjectivity emerges as she finally recognizes her guilt for causing Jazzlyn’s death and starts trying to redeem herself by visiting Tillie in prison. Although she has never directly confessed to Tillie that she was involved in the hit-and-run, Lara tries to redeem her crime by getting everything that Tillie needs. For example, she puts money in Tillie’s prison account and promises to get Tillie’s granddaughters to visit her. When she asks Tillie if anything else is needed, she turns pale and is stunned by Tillie’s answer: “Bring Jazzlyn back too” (222). Unfortunately, Lara cannot bring the dead back to life. In this respect, McCann’s novel suggests that redemption is impossible. The preacher’s and Lara’s double vision of Jazzlyn’s flying can be seen as being further complicated by the fictionalized flying man Petit’s walk in the sky. To some of the critics I discussed earlier, Petit’s walk ratifies



McCann’s attempt at aesthetic redemption in place of divine redemption. Nonetheless, at the moments when readers might expect a conclusion that affirms the transformative power of Petit’s acrobatic beauty, McCann’s novel calls it into question. Jazzlyn and Corrigan die on the same day Petit walks between the Towers. In the novel, two characters witness Petit’s walk: the bereaved mother Marcia, and Corrigan, an Irish Catholic monk. Corrigan is a member of the Society of Jesus who left Dublin after his mother died and, according to his brother Ciaran’s account, strives to bring salvation to the underprivileged on the margins of New  York. Tragedy strikes on the day when Corrigan gives Jazzlyn a ride back to her children after she is pronounced not guilty and released by the court, while Tillie, charged by Judge Solomon with robbery, is put into prison. On the way back home, Corrigan’s van is hit by Lara and Blaine’s car. Mysteriously, as Ciaran recalls in the first chapter of Book One, Corrigan whispers to Adelita from his deathbed in the hospital that “he had seen something beautiful” (72). It is not clear to Adelita what it is that Corrigan is talking about, so she assumes he is “talking nonsense” and “hallucinating” (72). Later, in the second chapter of Book Three, Adelita speculates that the moment of beauty that Corrigan had seen might have been “the man high up there, challenging God, a man above the cross rather than below” (284). Contrary to Adelita’s supposition of Petit’s daredevil arrogance or Singer’s contention (2012) that Petit is a “good, a larger-than-­ life Christ figure” (209) akin to Corrigan, a closer examination of the novel shows that the fictionalized Petit is more comparable to Corrigan in the sense of striving for survival on a tightrope than redeeming human sins like God. Corrigan is physically weak due to illness, and he also struggles spiritually between his religious faith and his love for Adelita. Despite his personal struggle to survive and to retain faith in God, he is like “some bright hallelujah” (McCann 2009a, 15) to the cast-offs of New York who turn to him for help and support. It is not because he is a Catholic monk that they turn to him, but because he is kind, empathetic, and as vulnerable as other human beings. Moving beyond both divine and aesthetic redemption, McCann’s novel demonstrates the importance of empathy and human bonding in making life possible for people who, in their everyday life, struggle on a tightrope and may fall as low as Jazzlyn and Tillie. According to McCann’s interview with Englander, the core image of the novel is embodied in the scene when little Jaslyn and Janice are rescued by Claire and Gloria, two mothers bereaved by Vietnam. In a symbolic sense, as McCann (2009a) further elaborates, “That’s the moment



when the towers get built back up” (363), namely rebuilding from the ruins. It also contributes in part to the sweetness of Jaslyn’s nostalgia when she looks at the photo of Petit’s walk. After Corrigan, Jazzlyn, and Tillie’s deaths, Gloria and Claire accidentally walk into Jaslyn and her sister’s lives. The four of them embody Dr. King’s dream and maintain close ties across racial and blood lines. Despite racial differences that they initially felt, Gloria and Claire are brought together by their common loss of sons in Vietnam and by shared acts of mourning. They bond by helping to heal each other and reaching out to help others in need. Gloria’s first-person narration appears in the last chapter, set in 1974, before the novel leaps forwards to 2006. The title of the chapter, “All Hail and Hallelujah,” suggests subtle connections between Gloria and Corrigan. Even though the title seems to encourage a congregation to join in praise of God, neither Corrigan nor Gloria is unwavering in religious belief. After two marriages and losing three sons, Gloria says she “gave up on Him without too much guilt” (290). Notwithstanding her questioning of God, she does not lose hope that human bonding can create happiness. Just as Corrigan lends a hand to Jazzlyn and Tillie, Gloria takes actions to rescue little Jaslyn and her sister despite personal prejudice against their prostitute mother and grandmother. It happens on the evening when Gloria and Claire make up after Claire offends Gloria by offering her money to stay. Gloria returns home to the Bronx with Claire and finds social workers trying to take away Jazzlyn’s two orphaned baby girls, who live two floors above her. Encouraged by Claire, Gloria approaches the social workers and tells them that she knows the girls. Gloria’s white lie saves the two baby girls from being taken away from home. Gloria then becomes Jaslyn and Janice’s adoptive mother, and, with Claire’s emotional support, provides them with a loving home, ending the legacy of “the house that Horse built.” The flashbacks of Ciaran, Tillie, Gloria, Claire, and Adelita help unravel Jaslyn’s bittersweet nostalgia. It is true that Jaslyn keeps Petit’s photo with her wherever she travels and fondly recalls the moment of beauty, but her nostalgic sentiment is not a desire to return to an idealized past. Book Four of the novel does not suggest a “sense of being trapped in the present where hope can only be directed backward rather than forward,” and neither does it engender “a kind of psychological (and political) paralysis” (Bradbury 2012, 347). If the opening of Book Four with the commentary on Petit’s photo suggests Jaslyn’s nostalgia, her nostalgia “pivotally entails a longing for be-longing, for insertion into networks of people” (Bradbury 2012, 344). It must be noted that this sense of be-longing runs counter



to the sense of belonging that, according to Boym, repairs longing for a lost home through a rediscovery of identity that is exclusive and that divides people. Feeling excluded in a society dominated by whiteness, Jaslyn is eager to find out who she is by returning to the past. Her nostalgia is “the desire not to be who we once were, but to be, once again, our potential future selves, selves not yet formed, still lost on early egocentric and eccentric maps, still finding pathways forward” (Bradbury 2012, 342). Her memories of youth may have been recalled ambivalently with a sense of shame and injustice for what had happened to her mother and grandmother. And yet, with hindsight she knows that she does not need to be who they once were, and refuses to be labeled only as African American or as descended from prostitutes. Aware of the impossibility of redemption in whiteness or in the individualism inherent in the American dream, she recognizes some aspects of the past that orient her in constructing a personal identity entangled with others, and enabling her to pursue a future of hope in human bonding. Despite the unfinished struggle against the remains of racism in American society, as the novel illustrates in one of its concluding sentences: “We stumble on . . . bring a little noise into the silence, find in others the ongoing of ourselves” (349). This sentence is given in the form of free indirect speech (“thinks Jaslyn”) to reveal Jaslyn’s inner thinking when she pays the elderly, sick Claire a visit. It shows that not only is her memory of the past entangled with that of many others’, but her self and future are full of hope and optimism, as indicated in the word “ongoing.” As Book Four comes to an end, the narrator repeats “we stumble on” once again, but this time it is stated in the form of a declarative sentence without the reporting phrase “thinks Jaslyn.” The shift of the narrative voice from the third-person singular “she” to the first-person plural “we,” underpinned by the peaceful image of Jaslyn and Claire lying next to each other on the bed (349), highlights the collectivity and connectivity at the core of a hopeful future.

Conclusion Since the end of Book Four is also the end of the novel, the first-person plural “we” voice and the dynamic image of “the world spinning” in the last line become more symbolic than in the context of Jaslyn’s story. The collective “we” is made up of not only Jaslyn and Claire but many other “I”s, including Ciaran, Lara, Tillie, Adelita, and Gloria, whose stories are narrated in the novel through first-person flashbacks. Brought together in



McCann’s novel, these particular first-person voices—Irish, white American, African American, and Guatemalan—constitute parts of plural “we” which represents transnational and multicultural viewpoints of the American past. Although each of the “I”s has individual memories and stories to tell, they are woven together in the novel by Petit’s walk, the Vietnam War, and the car accident. Collective memory of these events is retained based on the group (“we”) to which each individual “I” belongs. The repeated sentence “We stumble on” has its political, psychological, and cultural symbolism when it is interpreted in the aforementioned three contexts and based on different collective identities. The word “stumble,” as defined in Cambridge Dictionary, has the following meanings: (1) to step awkwardly while walking or running; (2) fall or begin to fall; and (3) to make a mistake, such as repeating something. Except Petit, who literally walks and stumbles on the tightrope, the other characters are tightrope walkers who either “fall” or “make mistakes” symbolically. Petit’s walk is spun into almost all of their stories directly or indirectly, but it is remembered differently based on people’s individual and collective identities. To Gloria and her group of bereaved mothers, Petit’s walk triggers memories of the Vietnam War, forcing them to fall from innocence and awakening them to the truth of loss, that is, the death of their sons and lack of American ideals of democracy and freedom. Gloria and the group of mourning mothers present an alternative viewpoint to that of Solomon and some Vietnam veterans, who, instead of remembering the defeat in Vietnam, appear to side with the American government in insisting on killing for healing, in order to restore nostalgically and melancholically an idealized past built on the fantasy of American exceptionalism. To some degrees, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be considered the return of the repressed, the indirect consequence of a national forgetting of Vietnam. Petit’s walk is also a mnemonic of Jazzlyn and Corrigan’s car accident, which first-person narrator Lara remembers with a pang of guilt. Lara acknowledges the role she plays as an accomplice in not only the hit-and-­ run crime but also the dominance of whiteness. Whiteness grants Lara, as well as Blaine, Claire, and Solomon, who share a collective white American identity, a life of privilege, while causing Tillie, her mother, and daughter to fall to sins, namely prostitution. The first-person flashbacks of Tillie, Adelita, and Ciaran about ethnic minority groups’ and immigrants’ predicaments provide clues to the dark sides of New York, casting shadows on the American dream and challenging further who “we” as Americans are.



Even if the fictionalized version of Petit’s walk may arguably arouse restorative nostalgia for an idealized past and romanticized homeland prior to 9/11  in some of the novel’s readers and commentators, at the same time it also evokes reflective nostalgia and critical thinking about memory, history, and identity. While triggering nostalgia, McCann’s novel does not dwell obsessively on the past. Neither does it deploy Petit’s walk to consolidate national identity and memory in terms of a fantasized American history of innocence and exceptionalism. Instead of returning to the past, the end of the novel envisions a future of hope (“The world spins”), despite the unfinished struggle (“We stumble on”) under difficult circumstances of, for example, war trauma, racial bigotry, and socio-­ economic inequality. The future that is envisaged in the progressive form of “the world spinning” may be reminiscent of Petit’s bird’s-eye view of the world spinning below him when he walked between the World Trade Towers in 1974. It was a time when the American government saw the World Trade Center, emblematic of capitalism and hegemony, as the future of the country. After the traumatic events of 9/11, to rebuild the World Trade Center exactly as it was became an ideal future for some people. Nevertheless, directing the reader’s eyes from Petit to everyday tightrope walkers and from arrogance and beauty to survival, McCann’s novel places hope in connectivity, and in terms of human bonding and empathy, just as Petit’s story is spun into other characters’ stories and memories. In doing so, McCann underlines a productive meaning of the world, like a spider that spins webs. McCann’s novel is itself like a spider, too. It alludes not only historically to Petit’s walk of 1974 but intertextually to Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Locksley Hall,” one of the themes of which is nostalgia. The titles of the two intersections that narrate Petit’s story—“Let the Great World Spin Forever down” and “The Rising Grooves of Change”—are derived from the seven couplets at the end of Tennyson’s poem. Book Four’s title, “Roaring Seaward, and I Go,” alludes to the poem’s last line. In a dramatic monologue, the unknown poetic persona “I” narrates how he and his comrades come to a place called Locksley Hall, where he spent his childhood. Locksley Hall, the childhood home, triggers his nostalgia for his romanticized youth as he fondly recalls memories of his childhood sweetheart. However, his nostalgia, like Jaslyn’s, is bittersweet, for he soon remembers how he was abandoned by his sweetheart due to her family’s disapproval. After reminiscing about the past, he learns wisdom from troubling experience, as Jaslyn does, and finds solace, as the poem relates,



“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast / Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest” (Tennyson 2006, 1133). Quickly catching up with his comrades, Tennyson’s poetic persona marches forward with a hopeful vision of the world. Nonetheless, as the poem turns from personal nostalgia to the nation’s might, Tennyson’s soldier, who strives to civilize the savages and who talks about “pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales” (Tennyson 2006, 1132), reminds McCann’s readers of the novel’s American soldiers in Vietnam. Although both Tennyson’s poem and McCann’s novel end with the image of the spinning world after musing about the past, the hope that Tennyson’s poetic persona places in human advancement and aerial commerce and combat (“Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails”) sounds more ironic than it may originally have been to McCann’s contemporary readers who remember the completion of the World Trade Center as a beacon of hope in 1974, and its traumatic collapse in 2001 marking the end of innocence.

Notes 1. Blaine and Lara are an artist couple in the novel. Even in the 1970s, they deliberately live as if they were in the 20s and make a series of paintings in the formal manners of that time. Blaine makes the comment about the present’s working on the past when he discovers his 1920s paintings left out over the night, becoming “beautiful and ruined” by the rain (McCann 2009a, 134). 2. Gerstein’s picture book, The Man Who Walked between the Towers, was the winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal, the 2004 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Books, and the 2006 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video. 3. Dubbed “The Falling Man” by Tom Junod (2003)  in his well-known Esquire essay, the photo was taken, on September 11, 2001, by Richard Drew, a journalist working for the Associated Press. The identity of the falling man has never been determined. 4. Virgin Land is one of the national myths of the American frontier, perceived as “the ideal surface onto which to inscribe the history of U.S.  Manifest Destiny” (Pease 2003, 4). For more details on how the Bush administration transformed the U.S. self-representations from Virgin Land to Ground Zero, see Pease 2003, 3–5. 5. For more detailed discussion on the notion of “a city on a hill” and American exceptionalism, see Saito 2010, 54–55 and Bergoffen 2008, 76.



6. The Bush administration has used the phrase “axis of evil” and “evil doers” to denote the al-Qaeda network and the states, organizations, and individuals that support it. In doing so, it justified the War on Terror as a “just” and “good” war. For more details, see Bush’s remarks from the White House on September 16, 2001. 7. President Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal two days after Petit’s walk. He was the first American president in history to resign from office. Before leaving Washington by helicopter, Nixon reportedly said to the press on the White House lawn: “I wish I had the publicity that Frenchman had.” As Petit (2014) remembers in the interview with Warwick, his walk attracted a lot of publicity at that time not only because it was a performance of art that humanized the notoriously inhuman Twin Towers but also because it was “taken as a breath of fresh air, just after Nixon resigned.” 8. There were five American presidents during the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam: Dwight D.  Eisenhower (1953–1961), John F.  Kennedy (1961–1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969), Richard Nixon (1969–1974), and Gerald Ford (1974–1977). 9. Even though Nixon signed the peace agreement in Paris in 1973 to end America’s participation in the war in Vietnam, he has been accused of sabotaging Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s peace initiative during his presidential campaign in 1968. Nixon insisted that he never encouraged the South Vietnam representatives to walk away from the talks. And yet, John A.  Farrell, author of Richard Nixon: The Life, reserves suspicions. In his opinion article in the New York Times, Farrell (2016) discloses that “[a] newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election.”

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Worlding Alternate Histories of the Post-­ 9/11 Era: The Transnational Trend, Normalization, and the Dynamics of Memory

Since 1990, alternate history novels have not only boomed but entered the mainstream literary market.1 As American authors have played a predominant role in establishing the genre, it should not come as a surprise that three of the most popular counterfactual premises in alternate history include “the Nazis winning World War II, the South winning the Civil War, and the American Revolution failing to occur” (Rosenfeld 2002, 94). There are, of course, other topics that alternate history novels deal with, as shown in Chaps. 3 and 4. Yet, as various as the topics may be, alternate histories “have rarely appeared in isolated fashion but rather have usually emerged in waves during specific eras” (Rosenfeld 2002, 93). In waves, “they have illustrated collective speculative trends that provide a revealing reflection of society’s broader views of the past” (Rosenfeld 2002, 94). To shed light on the socio-political impulse behind their production and the reason for their popularity, we should study not only the representation of the past in alternate history novels and their counterfactual premises but also the authors’ identities and motives, as well as critics’ and general readers’ reception of these works. In the past few years, in addition to the three popular themes that Rosenfeld points out, a transnational collective trend has sprung up in novels that alter the history of the post-9/11 era. In order to take stock of the contemporary perspective on what the emerging transnational wave of alternate history novels reveals about how the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have been remembered and ways in which the world could have © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




been transformed, this chapter first compares alternate history novels by both American and non-American writers before focusing on a close reading of Amy Waldman’s The Submission (2011). Taking Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel (2007), Lavie Tidhar’s Osama (2011), and Matt Ruff’s The Mirage (2012) as examples, I point out how the events of 9/11 have become normalized and viewed like other comparatively large events in a growing number of alternate history novels that appear to overlap with fantasy and science fiction. In contradistinction, Waldman’s The Submission exemplifies, in a relatively realistic style, what Pheng Cheah (2016) calls the “normative force” of world literature (5–6). Instead of normalizing the events of 9/11, The Submission speculates about what might have happened if the designer of the 9/11 memorial had been a Muslim. It illuminates “different processes of worlding” (Cheah 2016, 11) by imagining an alternative world, wherein, due to the global forces of religious movements, diasporas, and media transmission, the dynamics of remembering 9/11 is brought to the fore at the intersection between competitive memory and connective memory, and between the past and the emergent present.

From Moral Judgment to the Normalization of 9/11 In The World Hitler Never Made, Rosenfeld (2005) asks, “What makes a particular era in history abnormal?” (16). Rosenfeld posits the answer to this question is, “the experience of trauma, loss, and injustice,” as such experience “directly shapes how the past is viewed, namely by leading it to be surveyed from a distinctively moralistic perspective” (16). Like the Third Reich, the main focus of Rosenfeld’s book, the decade after 9/11 is a historical era that has seemed to resist normalization, thus assisting the learning of lessons that might prevent such a mistake from being repeated in the future. The evidence for this view can be found in the moral tone and the dominance of trauma narratives that were produced in the decade immediately following 9/11, especially from 2003 to 2007. Ken Kalfus’s A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006), for example, opens with the protagonist, Joyce, and her colleagues witnessing the horror of the attacks: “a second plane striking the World Trade Center. Every face of every man and woman on the roof was twisted by fear and shock” (2). In Falling Man (2007), Don DeLillo depicts the guilt of Keith, a 9/11 survivor, and his inability to come to terms with the trauma of the attacks. Since the event is too traumatic and violent to face, Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s The



Writing on the Wall (2005) and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2006) both express the wish to return to the good old days before 9/11. Just as Renata, the female protagonist in Schwartz’s novel, “wants to return to something benign, before” (104), Oskar, at the end of Foer’s novel, looks at a sequence of pictures of a falling man from last to first: “I reversed the order, so that the last one was first, and the first was last. When I flipped through them, it looked like the man was floating up through the sky” (325). In addition to these critically and commercially successful American novels of 9/11, a number of European novels, such as British novelist Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005) and French writer Frédéric Beigbeder’s Windows on the World (2003), also deal with the events of 9/11 and their traumatic impact, leading Kristiaan Versluys (2007) to go so far as to call 9/11 “a European event” (69). Focusing on the vulnerability of the 9/11 victims, these trauma narratives condemn the terrorists, albeit less directly than works like John Updike’s Terrorist (2006) and Martin Amis’s The Last Days of Muhammad Atta (2006), which portray fanatical Muslim terrorists. While many of the trauma narratives produced in the first five or six years after 9/11 focus on recounting the telling horrors surrounding 9/11, keeping the events vivid in people’s memories, since 2007 a number of alternate history novels have emerged that universalize, relativize, or aestheticize the events in the process of normalization. The process of normalization, as Rosenfeld argues (2005), “may be understood to commence when a dominant moralistic view of the past begins to lose its privileged status within popular consciousness and is challenged by dissenting views that are less committed to perceiving it from an ethically grounded vantage point” (17). There are a multitude of ways through which normalization gains ground. In descriptive terms, normalization starts to take form with the passage of time and with “the gradual disappearance of older generations that personally experienced certain historical events” (Rosenfeld 2005, 17). In a more prescriptive form, namely as “a goal that can be deliberately pursued in aggressive fashion,” the past can be normalized and neutralized when people actively deploy the following strategies to take the edge off the past’s singularity or abnormality: They may seek to relativize the past by deliberately minimizing its unique dimensions through comparisons with other more or less comparable historical occurrences. They may also attempt to universalize the past by explaining it as less the result of particularistic trends distinct to the era in



question than of broader, time-less, social, political, or economic forces that they hope to call attention to (and usually condemn). And they may try to aestheticize the past by representing it through various narrative techniques that neutralize its moral dimensions. (Rosenfeld 2005, 17)

Since the 1970s, as Rosenfeld notes, an increasing number of alternate history narratives of the Nazi era have utilized the aforementioned strategies of relativization, universalization, and aestheticization while exhibiting “a diminished attentiveness to the suffering of the victims” (19). In a similar manner, as I will illustrate, a number of American and non-­American speculative narrative representations of the post-9/11 era contribute to a normalizing trend, too. In addition to the strategies used, critical attention should also be given to key questions, such as How does the normalization of the events and their aftermath illuminate the workings of memory, and what kinds of memory? How does a transnational trend of deliberately normalized memory reveal people’s view of the past and the existing world? What worldly functions do alternate history novels serve if they are not intended as merely an “idle parlor game”2 (Carr [1961] 2001, 91)? As one of the earliest alternate history novels of 9/11, Scottish novelist Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel (2007) conjectures what the world would be if Albert Gore, rather than George W. Bush, had been elected American president in 2000. Having thrice received the Prometheus Award for best libertarian science fiction (The Star Fraction 1995, The Stone Canal 1996, and Learning the World 2005) and the British Science Fiction Association award (The Sky Road 1999), MacLeod’s work has long been recognized for provocatively mixing science fiction and radical politics. The subjunctive premise, on which The Execution Channel is based, is in line with popular counterfactual arguments in politics. In “Challenging Certainty,” Simon T.  Kaye (2010) points out that “A new and popular sub-genre . . . is already emerging in the form of counterfactuals that discuss the imaginary political outcomes of a victory for Al Gore in the U.S. presidential elections of 2000, as well as the often overlapping theme of alternative foreign and domestic strategies in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001” (39). Examples can be found in President Gore and Other Things that Never Happened (2006) and in a Saturday Night Live sketch in May 2006, in which Al Gore himself playfully gave an address as the 43rd American President, vowing confidently to resolve the problems of climate change, terrorism, and so on.



In its selection of Gore’s victory as a point of divergence, MacLeod’s The Execution Channel is by no means a simple example of putting the “great man” theory into practice. Generally subscribed to by alternate historians, the “great man” theory follows Thomas Carlyle’s assertion that “[t]he history of the world is but the biography of great men” (qtd. in Goldberg et al. 1993, 52). Instead, in MacLeod’s alternative world, Gore’s victory in the 2000 presidential election does not make huge changes to the U.S. and the world. Neither does it drastically change the course of history. In the novel’s alternative timeline, al-Qaeda still launches a series of terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001. Although rumored that the targets would be the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, as occurred in our timeline, the terrorists in the novel instead attack the State House and Faneuil Hall in Boston. In MacLeod’s novel, even if the 9/11 attacks are less despicable than those which actually occurred, fictionalized President Gore still declares a War on Terror in retaliation. The Execution Channel is set in a near future in which 9/11 and the Iraq War had been followed by a bio-engineered flu pandemic, war with Iran, a rash of terrorist attacks, and international state-sponsored executions which are broadcast 24/7 on a pirate channel. Rather than focusing on the singularity of 9/11, as mainstream trauma narratives have tended to do, or changing its aftermath by substituting President Gore for President Bush, MacLeod’s novel views 9/11 as merely one example of an escalating trend in international terrorism, and shifts attention from the victims to the world of perpetrators and terror suspects. The novel opens with the detonation of a mysterious device, apparently a nuclear weapon, at a U.S. occupied air force base in Scotland. A local family is accused of perpetrating the crime. The father, James Travis, is a British software engineer whose hatred for the U.S. and disappointment with the British government’s “incompetence and lack of preparation for the pandemic that had killed his wife and half a million others” (MacLeod 2007a, 257) led him to spy secretly for France, which, in the novel, has become hostile to both the U.S. and U.K. James’ daughter, Roisin, a peace activist who has been monitoring the U.S. Air Force base, captures images of the device on film before it explodes. After receiving a warning from her brother, Alec, who is in the British army, Roisin immediately flees the camp, but is caught, interrogated, and released under surveillance by the British authorities for carrying illicit photos of a nuclear weapon. Alec does not get off so easily, and is tortured to death by American central intelligence agents.



Meanwhile, their father, James, travels north to Scotland to meet up with Roisin. Unfortunately, they happen to be in the same area as some bridges and airports that are sabotaged. In a subplot, an American conspiracy theorist and blogger, Mark Dark, tries to make sense of the events amidst the lies and disinformation being circulated on the Internet by government intelligence agents and other bloggers. As if all terrorism and mayhem were not terrifying enough, many of the novel’s chapters end with descriptions of the horrific images broadcast over the Execution Channel. These include state executions and political murders in places like “Bolivia and Nepal and the Red parts of China” (89). Notwithstanding the dissemination of conspiracy theories about a nuclear weapon “being developed by a French-Chinese-Russian consortium,” or being triggered by the Americans “[a]s a warning to the Brits not to go wobbly, and as a provocation to stir up anger against the Muslims” (118), it is never made clear who is behind all the bombings and sabotage, and whether or not the Travis family is involved. At the end of the novel, the world is overwhelmed by terror that simultaneously seems to come from nowhere and everywhere. In an interview with Paul Raven, MacLeod (2007b) explains his motivation for writing The Execution Channel and how it differs from his previous work in the genres of hard science fiction and space opera. He states that when he conceived the plot for the novel, he had “New British Catastrophe” in mind, but he was not interested in “the catastrophe novels of John Wyndham and J. G. Ballard and others,” whose catastrophes “were always things that weren’t likely to happen—walking plants, a wind from nowhere, giant wasps, volcanoes in Wales” (2007b). Instead, he endeavored to depict “the catastrophe that everyone really feared,” which turned out to be the core of The Execution Channel, namely “nuclear attack, terrorism, [and] torture” (2007b). In the novel, however, catastrophes occur not only in Britain but all over the world. In order to balance science fictional elements that he has subtly deployed, such as references to the Heim theory, and to get “people who don’t normally read SF” to read the novel, MacLeod strategically incorporates alternate history to set his novel “in a future that’s already different from ours, because it has a different past” (2007b). And yet, regardless of the slightly alternate history, McLeod postulates an alternative world that seems reasonably plausible, as it attempts to reflect the global fear and paranoia of calamities in a world that is becoming increasingly apocalyptic.



Due to its focus on fear and terror, the novel has been read more commonly as a spy thriller or science fiction than as alternate history fiction. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly considers The Execution Channel “perhaps MacLeod’s most compulsively readable novel to date” (2007, 36). Vicky Williamson also acknowledges the novel as the author’s “best and most intense effort to date,” managing to “mix politics and science fiction” in a blend which makes readers both “scared” and “disturbed” (2007). In “The Boom’s Near Future,” one of the few scholarly articles on the novel, critic Hugh Charles O’Connell (2013) likewise regards The Execution Channel as a “resolutely SF near future novel” (73). O’Connell explains that the novel “mixes Cold War style nuclear paranoia, spy thrillers, and conspiracy theory and serves them up with a dose of the war on terror, and economic and environmental collapse to present a text that is saturated with crisis” (75). In comparison, Michael Orthofer’s review is lukewarm. He comments on the novel’s failure to provide an in-depth exploration of the historical forces and transnational politics that move both individuals and nation states, complaining that “[r]eaders run along with James and Roisin, and some of the other characters, but as to what’s behind it all, the bigger historical forces and moves, those are almost incidentally explained” (2007). The heart of Orthofer’s dissatisfaction is that “[t]he alternate part of history here is, for the most part, little more than incidental—and certainly nowhere near the fore” (2007). Notwithstanding Orthofer’s critique, readers and critics generally accepted MacLeod’s universalization of the 9/11 attacks by removing them from a morally grounded framework and resituating them under the larger paradigm of terrorism, in which not only Islamic fundamentalists like al-Qaeda are involved but nation states like the U.S., France, China, and Russia secretly sponsor terrorists. In effect, this kind of normalization both weakens people’s memories of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a singular event and dissolves the dichotomy between perpetrators and victims. Israeli-born South African and British writer Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, as can be deduced from the title, is more focused on al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks than is MacLeod’s The Execution Channel, although in the world of Osama, Osama bin Laden becomes the fictional vindictive avenger of a popular series of pulp thrillers, Osama Bin-Laden: Vigilante, and does not actually appear in the novel. Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2012, Tidhar’s Osama combines the conventions of science fiction, detective fiction, noir, history, alternate history, and romance. The novel’s protagonist, Joe, is a private detective who, based in peaceful



Vientiane, Laos, is hired by an unnamed woman to locate the Vigilante books’ reclusive writer, Mike Longshott, for unknown reasons. Joe’s mission takes him to Paris to find Longshott’s publisher, Daniel Papadopoulos. However, the Paris of the book is considerably different from the one we know due to an alternate series of historical events in the 1940s: Charles de Gaulle died in Algiers in 1944 and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the war hero and author of The Little Prince, was elected President in his stead. Although Papadopoulos has never met Longshott in person, he has Longshott’s address, which, as Joe eventually discovers, is for a private club in London. Joe follows the trail of Longshott from Paris to London and then to New  York, where he attends OsamaCon, the first global annual convention for fans of Longshott’s books. During his investigation, Joe becomes increasingly confused as to what is real and what is fabricated. To complicate his task, he has been tracked down, injured, and even imprisoned by a group of men appointed by a group called the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), whose main job is to deter him from finding Longshott and Bin Laden. The CPD was founded for “the greater good,” and its mission is to “identify and counter the clear and present danger facing our country’s peace” (Tidhar 2011, Location 841, 2726–27). In his wide travels, Joe also runs up against a series of mysterious figures known as “ghosts,” “refugees,” or “fuzzy-­ wuzzies,” who are watching and following him like “shadows at the edge of sight, blurred silent figures” (Location 970, 1045, 2433). The novel suggests that the CPD men and shadowy refugees are from a parallel world depicted in Longshott’s books. Intriguingly, just as MacLeod, in The Execution Channel, intersperses the Travis’s story with descriptions of brutal executions, Tidhar dots Joe’s search with excerpts from Longshott’s books which are rich in details concerning terrorists’ names, bombing places, and timings reminiscent of real-world al-Qaeda attacks in our own timeline. In the end, after miraculously escaping from the CPD prison, the tenacious detective Joe, as if guided by some supernatural force, finds Longshott in Kabul, Afghanistan. However, the identities of Joe’s mysterious client, the CPD men, and the refugees are never given, and it turns out that Longshott is a drug addict who has invented the terrorist world in the Vigilante pulp series during opium-induced dream states. Neither Tidhar himself nor many of the novel’s reviewers seem able to decide whether Osama is or is not about 9/11. In an interview with John Dodds, Tidhar (2015) explains how his personal experiences and encounters with al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, such as the American embassy



bombings in Dar-es-Salaam in 1998, the 2004 Sinai and 2005 King’s Cross attacks, motivated him to write Osama. As he recounts, “Osama came out of a lot of my own personal experience, but took me nearly a decade to come to the actual writing” (2015). The origin of the novel is a short story he wrote in 2006 called “My Travels with Al-Qaeda.” When it was published in 2011, the sales of Osama perhaps received a boost because in May, 2011, U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Given that the novel contains detailed summaries of the real-world al-­ Qaeda attacks, it is no wonder that some of its reviewers, like Stephen Baxter (2011), claim that “[t]his is indubitably a book about the real 9/11” (79). Details of some of the attacks described in the Vigilante books clearly allude to the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror. For example, in the chapter “A Second Invasion,” presumably an excerpt from one of the pulp thrillers, the narrator states that Baghdad was invaded in 2003 by people who “came to wage a war on terror, prompted by an attack thousands of miles away” (Location 2373). A few pages later, readers are offered more details about the fictional attack thousands of miles away, which resembles the actual 9/11. As depicted in Longshott’s pulp fiction, the attack happened in 2001 when “[f]our planes had been hijacked and made to crash, two of them into the tallest structures in the city of New York” (Location 2380). And yet, Bin Laden undeniably does not appear in the novel, so Tidhar (2012) also states in an interview that “the book has got nothing to do with that [capturing Bin Laden] directly, it’s more about the impact of terrorism on the victims than the terrorist masterminds, who are like the least interesting part of it.” What Tidhar aims to achieve by integrating mimetic reality, alternate history, and science fiction into the writing of Osama is evidently not to deepen readers’ memories of 9/11 as an unforgettable, singular event, and nor does he judge the terrorists. Like The Execution Channel, Osama appears to redirect critical attention from trauma to unfathomable fear when it grapples with the impact of terrorism. Unlike MacLeod’s critics, most of whom think the deployment of alternate history is insignificant in The Execution Channel, Tidhar’s reviewers and critics have not only remarked on the use of alternate history in Osama but opined on how it might impact readers. Anna McFarlane’s contention, in “Time and Affect After 9/11,” is the best counter-argument to Carr’s dismissal of alternate history as a “parlor game” that does not have “anything to do with history” ([1961] 2001, 91). Providing “one of the first scholarly readings of Tidhar’s work,” McFarlane (2019) characterizes the



use of alternate history in Osama as an unconventional form of “emotional historiography” rather than “a linear retelling of history with difference” (94, 93). She asserts that, “Through the use of alternate history’s modes, Osama excellently captures the confusion and fear that terrorism inspires and uses as its weaponry” (92). According to her argument, Tidhar’s alternate history novel inspires fear by blurring the boundaries between the fictional and the real, as evidenced, for example, by the intrusion of the “refugees” into Joe’s world and by incorporating the readers’ own world in the fictional Vigilante series. However, McFarlane argues that Osama has to integrate “a fantastic twist” into its alternate history because “fantasy offers more honesty than a jaded realism” (105). She claims that, “The use of fantasy allows the affective environment to be core to historical understanding, rather than something that must be put aside in order to settle on an ‘objective’ interpretation of the historical events” (105). Even if, in McFarlane’s opinion, “affect” and “distrust of realism” are two of the novel’s core concerns (105), affect, realism, and alternate history are not always or necessarily in conflict, as some theories of possible worlds have suggested, and I will further elaborate on this point later through a close reading of Waldman’s The Submission. The fantastical twist may have helped inject fear into the alternative world in Osama, but the breakdown of the boundaries between the real and the fictional can also be seen as a kind of normalization of memory, as the events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks are aestheticized in the novel through Tidhar’s postmodern and over-the-top narrative techniques that nullify their moral magnitude. In Tidhar’s alternate history, Bin Laden and al-Qaeda terrorist attacks exist only in Longshott’s cheap potboilers. Even if, as McFarlane argues, fear may be aroused when readers sense the parallels between Longshott’s fictional world and their own, the mysteries surrounding the “refugees” from another world remain unresolved and the Vigilante books are revealed to be merely Longshott’s fantasies. Moreover, akin to what Rosenfeld (2005) has observed of the “increasing aestheticization of the Nazi era in European and American high and popular culture,” in the “Hitler wave,” namely an “intense attention to, and fascination with, the person of Adolf Hitler himself” (18–19), Osama manifests a similar fascination with Osama bin Laden. In the novel, Bin Laden fans around the world attend OsamaCon in New  York, which includes “[p]anels, lectures, family entertainment, dealer tables, art expo and costume competition” as well as “[a]n all-you-can-eat B.B.Q. following the parade” (Location 2461), and even a life-sized Osama bin Laden



cut-out at the door. In the terror-free alternative world of the 1940s, Longshott’s Vigilante books, which are full of “what if ” questions, captivate readers because terrorism is the stuff of “good escapist fun” (Location 2536, 2537). Vivian, a woman in the convention’s reception, explains, “To read about these horrible things and know they never happened, and when you’re finished you can put down the book and take a deep breath and get on with your life” (Location 2537). Vivian’s words are deeply ironic, of course, for the 1940s, far from being a time fans would feel “lucky” to live because all “terrible things” stay “[i]n the pages of a book” (Location 2550) was the era of WWII, the Holocaust, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and appalling atrocities committed against civilian populations throughout Europe and Asia, including the countries Joe travels through as he tracks down Longshott and Bin Laden. The alternative world in Osama drastically diverges from actual reality not only by erasing Nazism and Japanese imperialism entirely from history but by turning 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks into fiction. As Rosenfeld (2005) points out, the worst thing about the “Hitler Wave,” is that “it seemed to signal a growing tendency to forget precisely those aspects of the past that most needed to be remembered in order to prevent their recurrence” (19). Similarly, the Osama craze that Tidhar’s alternate history novel revolves around, even if highly ironic, is liable to consign the Holocaust, 9/11, and other terrorist attacks to oblivion, as they are supplanted by an imagined, unreal peace of the past. Osama bin Laden appears in American writer Matt Ruff’s The Mirage, which, like Tidhar’s novel, generates a sense of confusion over whether or not the events of 9/11 took place in the novel’s alternative world. The Mirage imagines the Christian States of America (CSA) as a collection of Third-World countries populated by Christian fundamentalists who, on November 9, 2001, launch terrorist attacks by flying hijacked aircrafts into the Tigris and Euphrates twin towers of Baghdad, the capital city of the world’s dominant power, the democratic United Arab States (UAS). In spite of its setting in an alternative world where the sides in the War on Terror are flipped, the novel depicts historical figures that mirror their counterparts in the real world. As Ruff (2012b) explains in an interview, “One of the rules I devised for the mirage world is that people’s basic characters wouldn’t change, only their job descriptions.” In the novel, for example, Saddam Hussein “is still a wicked man, but since he can’t be a dictator, he becomes a gangster,” and Osama bin Laden is “a warmongering politician” (Ruff 2012b). Even though they are famous people who



have played a significant role in shaping the history of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are minor figures in Ruff’s novel, while three Arab Homeland Security (AHD) agents—Mustafa, Amal, and Samir—are the major protagonists, risking their lives to protect the UAS from Western terrorists. Like the detective, Joe, in Osama, the three Arab agents become confused about what is and is not real. In post-11/9 Baghdad, they hear from a captured terror suspect that the UAS is nothing but a “mirage” of “God’s doing,” an “illusion,” and a “dream” that does not really exist, whereas “America is the true superpower” (Ruff 2012a, 62–63). They dismiss all this as insane ranting, but while searching the suspect’s apartment, they discover a copy of the September 12, 2001 New York Times with a front page photo of burning Twin Towers in the U.S. following an attack by “those poor loser third-world Arabs” (71–72). According to their boss, Farouk, at the AHD headquarters, many other interrogation subjects “have been spouting the same legend: that this world we live in is false; that God loves America, not Arabia” (80). In addition to the copy of a New York Times, other mysterious artifacts are found, including an American flag, a map of Iraq, a regional map of the entire Middle East, and the Paris Le Monde, dated September 13, 2001, with a banner headline reading “America attacked, the world seized by fear,” and a smaller headline says “We are all Americans” (81–82). As Mustafa, Amal, and Samir investigate further into the mirage mystery, traveling as far as North America, they are threatened by Senator Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda members, who do not want them to learn that, “in the real world Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization and Osama bin Laden is responsible for the September 11 attacks” (356). At the end of the novel, Saddam Hussein’s sorcerer calls out a jinn to fulfil his master’s wishes, but the jinn instead magically transports Mustafa, Amal, and Samir to a future city in the middle of a desert. In “Conjuring The Mirage,” an appendix at the end of the book, Ruff contrasts his position against the dominant moralistic framework within which 9/11 is viewed as an abnormal event and Muslim terrorists as evil. He aptly points out that there are two basic narrative templates that dominate the narratives of 9/11. One is the “right-wing template,” picturing “a group of patriotic Americans squaring off against evil Muslim terrorists,” and the other is the “left-wing template,” which differs slightly from the former by showing patriotic Americans’ “feeling ambivalent” and yet still “squaring off against evil Muslim terrorists” (Ruff 2012c, 4). To



foreground the innocence of the vast majority of Muslims, Ruff makes ordinary Muslims, like Mustafa, Amal, and Samir, the central characters who fight against not only Christian crusaders but also Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden. The Mirage is intended as “a looking glass” that, by reversing the geopolitical situation and the casting conventions, reflects “[a] world where patriotic Arabians squared off against evil Christian terrorists . . . and felt ambivalent about it” (Ruff 2012c, 5). Ruff goes on to explain that, by using a strategy of relativization to compare 9/11 with 11/9, he endeavors to make readers see “what happened if you took away that sense of immunity” and how that would “affect our attitude toward things like torture and regime change” (2012c, 5). Plainly, the novel’s target audience are Americans, to whom Ruff sends the message that Americans and Muslims are more alike than different and that, apart from the ethically grounded vantage point, there are dissenting views of 9/11. Blending alternate history and fantasy into a post-9/11 thriller, The Mirage has received mixed reviews. Its proponents have acclaimed it, as exemplified by a Publishers Weekly review (2011), as “both entertaining and provocative, exactly what the best popular fiction should be” (33), and Sophia Samatar (2012) praises the novel, asserting that it “isn’t really an alternate history” but rather “a mirror,” for “[t]here are signs everywhere that history in The Mirage is our history repeated.” Whilst Ruff’s book is a welcome addition to the post-9/11 literature, it has also received criticism. Whereas Samatar finds no problems with Ruff’s characters, Kirkus Reviews (2012) asserts that “the characters are hard to care about and the plot doesn’t feel properly resolved” (2384). Annette Schimmelpfennig and Tim Lanzendörfer (2015), who wrote one of the first scholarly articles about the novel, have issues with Ruff’s “stereotypical representation” of Muslims, whom they see as “curiously essentialized characters whose personalities are unchanged” (176). Other drawbacks include using the “almost painfully stereotypical” jinn “as the central fantastical conceit” and the “abnegation of resolution” at the novel’s end, in which the three central characters are magically transported to a future city (Schimmelpfennig and Lanzendörfer 2015, 176). Placing hope in an unknown future without resolving problems in the novel’s narrative present, the novel elides the need for human effort to improve our world. Most crucially, even though the original premise of the novel is to speculate on what might have happened had the U.S. and the Middle East traded sides, “the fact that the world of The Mirage turns out to actually be a mirage finally counteracts completely the idea” (Schimmelpfennig and



Lanzendörfer 2015, 176). In other words, when the alternative world is proven to be merely an illusion, history returns to its normal course, so the novel neither changes the outcome of 9/11 nor challenges the post-9/11 reality; the eventful counterfactual history is eventually nullified. The Execution Channel, Osama, and The Mirage manifest a growing trend in the post-9/11 literature toward a worlding of alternate history. “Worlding” can be perceived, first of all, in the most common sense of the word as globalization. Not only American writers like Ruff but non-­ American writers like MacLeod and Tidhar employ counterfactual narrative forms to reflect on popular consciousness and memories of 9/11. They also ruminate over the events’ impact on the world, as seen, for example, in these novels’ settings across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Through strategies of universalization, aestheticization, and relativization, these books demonstrate a transnational and collective endeavor to deliberately normalize the events of 9/11 through alternate history. By weakening and challenging readers’ memories of 9/11 as an unprecedented historical trauma, these novels either draw attention to other international terrorist attacks or question the dominant moralistic interpretation of 9/11 while inviting dissenting views of the events and their aftermath. Despite their commercial success, these three novels have not received as much critical attention as Waldman’s The Submission, perhaps because of their light treatment of the historical specificity and ethico-political complexity of the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. MacLeod, Tidhar, and Ruff are award-winning science fiction writers, and their alternate history novels’ reliance on elements like the jinn, time-traveling police, and parallel worlds support Karen Hellekson’s assertion that “alternate history is a subgenre of the genre of science fiction, which is itself a subgenre of fantastic (that is, not realistic) literature” (2001, 3). Even if Hellekson is inclined to view much of alternate history as a subgenre of science fiction, as pointed out in Chap. 2, she is still firmly convinced that it can have redeeming social value, and “the best kind of alternate history is the one concerned most intimately with plausible causal relationships” with a potential to “change the present by transforming the past” (1, 4). Here, Hellekson underscores the two levels of “worlding” which the best kind of alternate history is expected to cultivate: creating a possible world and transforming the existing one. If it succeeds on these two levels, alternate history fiction can function as world literature, which, according to Cheah’s normative theory, “seeks to understand the normative force that



literature can exert in the world, the ethicopolitical horizon it opens up for the existing world” (2016, 5). In general, The Execution Channel, Osama, and The Mirage effectively normalize the events of 9/11 and their aftermath, and yet, in the process of normalization, they fail to exert the normative force of literature, as the alternative world is rendered either an illusion or a dystopia in which terror comes from nowhere and everywhere, with the characters vainly striving to control it.

The Normative Force of World Literature and the Dynamics of Memory Centering on the tension between moralism and the normalization of 9/11, Waldman’s The Submission invites readers to grapple with how best to represent and remember the events and how altering history may work to reworld the existing world. The novel was inspired by the backlash against Maya Lin, the young Vietnamese American who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  In an interview with Jennie Gritz, Waldman (2011a) recalls talking with an artist friend about the 1981 controversy over Lin’s design “because Lin was Asian-American and Vietnam was an Asian war” and wondering, “What would the equivalent be for the 9/11 memorial?” According to the official website of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the real design competition attracted 5201 submissions from 63 nations, all of which were reviewed anonymously by the 13-member jury until five finalists were agreed upon. The winner— Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s Reflecting Absence—was revealed on January 14, 2004, in a press conference in New  York City. However, Waldman’s novel postulates what might have happened had a Muslim American won the 9/11 memorial competition in 2003. According to Hellekson’s categorization, The Submission can be seen as a nexus story that focuses on a crucial point or happening in history, whose outcome is changed because of the nexus event. It does not have Osama’s “time-travel alternation,” which has travelers, like the CPD men, “moving from their present to the past to alter events,” and neither does it include the “plural uchronia” (Hellekson 2001, 5), as The Mirage does, which places the alternative reality of 11/9 next to that of the reader’s 9/11. Waldman’s novel begins with the jury debating the merits of two anonymous submissions—the Void and the Garden. The former is strongly supported by the influential artist Ariana Montagu, and the latter by the



wealthy widow and 9/11 families’ representative, Claire Burwell. After the jury finally decide upon the Garden, they are alarmed to discover that the architect is a second-generation Muslim American of Indian descent named Mohammad Khan. Immediately, the jury’s debate changes course from what is the most appropriate design to who should be entitled to remember and pay tribute to the 9/11 victims. Before the jury’s chairman can decide how to proceed, the identity of the architect is leaked to a tabloid newspaper. Soon Khan’s garden is caught in community activists’ manipulation of identity politics because of his Muslim identity. In a sharp contrast to Arad’s Reflecting Absence, which, after years of construction, was completed and officially opened to the public on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Khan’s design in the novel’s alternative world is swamped in controversy and is never built. Curiously enough, though a prime example of the counterfactual narrative, The Submission has almost never been studied along with other post-9/11 alternate history novels, tending instead to be lumped in with post-9/11 Muslim or immigrant novels by non-American writers. In The 9/11 Novel, Arin Keeble (2014) views The Submission, along with Pakistani British novelist Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Irish writer Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland, as “a new kind of 9/11 novel” that departs “specifically from the domestic fiction of 9/11” (165). Moreover, Keeble points out that both Khan and Changez, in the middle of their stories, invite suspicion by growing beards (173). Peter Ferry (2017) makes the same point in his reading of “the beard as a loaded signifier of the Other” (166). Ayşem Seval’s comparative study likewise argues that Hamid’s and Waldman’s novels “differ from several post-9/11 works as they expose the intricacies of contemporary representations of liberal selfhood and otherness in a post-9/11 context” (2017, 102). Sonia Baelo-Allué (2016) agrees with these critics, especially Keeble, when she asserts that The Submission’s “literary frame of reference” is “the novel of multiculturalism linked to a large metropolis” (170). Noting its concern with American multiculturalism, Baelo-Allué reads Waldman’s novel as a “cultural trauma novel” that, distinctively different from earlier 9/11 trauma novels of victimhood, “focuses on the panoramic and the political, and on the collective and cultural aspects of trauma for the nation” (170). In addition to Hamid’s book, Margarita Estévez-Saá and Noemí Pereira-Ares (2016) also compare The Submission to British Muslim woman writer Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, suggesting a “transcultural positioning” in these novels that go “beyond the discourse of trauma” (268). To put it simply, without



normalizing the events of 9/11 and their aftermath, Waldman’s novel is widely acclaimed for its attempt at challenging the moralistic framework that dominates earlier 9/11 trauma novels by rigorously engaging in transnationalism and multiculturalism. What these critics suggest without explicitly saying is that the correct critical approach to Waldman’s The Submission is to treat it as world literature. Although, unlike Hamid, Ali, and O’Neil, Waldman herself is not a Muslim, migrant, or postcolonial writer, her novel meets Cheah’s main criterion for world literature. According to Cheah (2008), the “world” should be conceived of as “an ongoing, dynamic process of becoming, something continually made and remade rather than a spatial-­geographical entity” (30–31). Based on this dynamic sense of the world, world literature can be construed as “literature that is of the world, a fundamental force in the ongoing cartography and creation of the world instead of a body of timeless aesthetic objects” (Cheah 2008, 30–31). Though Cheah is speaking in reference to postcolonial literature, The Submission still fits this definition. As Cheah (2016) clarifies, “Literature of the postcolonial South is an important modality of world literature defined as literature that worlds and makes a world because the sharp inequalities for the masses of postcolonial societies make the opening of other worlds a matter of the greatest imperativity” (11). Even if The Submission is set in the post-9/11 U.S. instead of the postcolonial South that Cheah has in mind, it “self-­ consciously take[s] the world and worldhood as one of its main themes at the same time that it also exemplifies the process of world-making” (Cheah 2008, 36). The novel depicts a world in which different processes of worlding are played out. It foregrounds the complex relations and tensions between the transnational movement of Muslim migrants and their predicament in the U.S., between the mainstream Western media’s representation of innocent 9/11 victims and that of ill-intentioned or evil outsiders like immigrants and terrorists, and between artistic liberties and specific culturo-political interpretations of the Garden in the post-9/11 and Islamist context. It must be noted that The Submission can be viewed as world literature, not only because in remembrance of the 9/11 victims it joins other multicultural and transnational novels in resisting the homogenizing tendency of early 9/11 literature, but also because its reconceptualization of the world in temporal terms provides a normative basis for transforming the world. The latter deserves as much critical attention as the former because “worlding,” both as a strategy and as an ongoing project, provides an



important point of connection for linking alternate history fiction with world literature. Unlike The Execution Channel, Osama, and The Mirage, The Submission does not include any science fictional or fantastical elements. Its counterfactual premise has been deemed highly plausible by the real 9/11 memorial jury, and its alternate history, instead of providing escapist fun, offers grounds to challenge historical determinism. Concerned with historical contingency, The Submission “conjecture[s] on what did not happen, or what might have happened, in order to understand what did happen” (Black and MacRaild 2007, 125). James E. Young (2012), himself a member of the memorial selection jury, quotes another two jury members who have read The Submission to point out how much they enjoyed it, “regaling the rest of us with the novel’s uncannily plausible premise.” As regards the plausibility of a counterfactual premise, Gallagher (2018) asserts, No matter how distant the resulting creations seem from ours, they are meaningful primarily as plausible offshoots of some phase of our world, some version of what it nearly became. The mode’s vigorous ‘worlding’ thus deepens our perceptions of actuality by shadowing and estranging them. And perhaps most typically, the alternate worlds strip our own of its neutral, inert givenness and open it to our judgment. (15, emphasis added)

Here, Gallagher echoes Lubomir Doležel (2010), who similarly claims that “the appropriate criterion for evaluating the counterfactuals’ usefulness” should be “plausibility” rather than “truth value” (103). And yet, Alexander Marr (2014) points out that plausibility is not simply about how evidently “actual history provides the elements for imagining alternative scenarios” (91). More importantly, the possible yet counterfactual “worlding” that bears an ambivalently close yet estranging relationship to historical reality pushes readers to compare the alternative world with the real one and poses the question of what “actual history ha[s] to gain from counterfactual scenarios” (Marr 2014, 91). In constructing “what if?” scenarios in The Submission, Waldman rejects “the classical-optimist implication that the real world, as it exists, is both ‘inevitable’ and ‘the best of all possible worlds’” and “an overly simplistic understanding of human progress” (Kaye 2010, 40–41). Instead, it foregrounds the roles that human agency, movement, and affect play in deciding the development and remembrance of history.



A possible world is created in The Submission through the convergence of fiction and non-fiction, history and alternate history. Waldman’s attention to details and facts is instantly recognizable, in part resulting from her years of working as a journalist, first for the Washington Monthly and then the New York Times. Kamila Shamsie (2011), for example, praises Waldman for “tear[ing] up the contract” that was, metaphorically, signed at the end of 2001 by “the representatives of fiction writing and non-fiction writing” to “divide territory.” Claire Messud (2011) deems The Submission “a historian’s novel” that, “in these unnerving times . . . is a necessary and valuable gift.” While these reviewers praise Waldman as a historian, they nearly overlook the novel’s narrative mode of alternate history. In fact, the “presence of a journalistic tone” and “elements of reportage-style” (166) that Keeble (2014) has observed of Waldman’s novel is shared by many other counterfactual historical narratives. In Possible Worlds of Fiction and History, Doležel (2010) points out that counterfactual historical narrative “interweaves historical writing, a travel guide, and various historical ‘documents’—private correspondence, a House of Commons record, newspaper articles” (114). In The Mirage, for example, Ruff accurately portrays the burning Towers photo on the front page of the New York Times, and even cites Le Monde’s well-known article, “We Are All Americans.” Real-­life 9/11 images and news reports like these are familiar to the novel’s readers, but in Ruff’s alternative world, these artifacts are rendered deceptive and hence in effect cause the reader’s confusion over what is real and what is fabricated in the novel. On the contrary, in Waldman’s novel, reportage of the events of 9/11 and the memorial design is incorporated in order to create an alternative world that is plausible to the novel’s readers, as it mirrors their own. More importantly, the novel’s extensive and intensive depiction of reportage illuminates the role that the media, especially journalism, play in commemoration. In doing so, Waldman manifests how the mainstream mass media write the first draft of history and, in shaping the audience’s collective memory, influence their perception of the post-9/11 world, from which the Muslims are unfortunately excluded. Even though the 9/11 memorial was not, in fact, designed by a Muslim and the counterfactual premise that the novel starts with is false, Waldman’s depiction of biased and misinformed media representation of Muslims is quite accurate. The novels’ fictional media coverage of the 9/11 memorial design competition evidently draws on many Americans’ real-world tendency to conflate “Muslim” with “terrorist.” In Arabs and Muslims in the



Media, Evelyn Alsultany (2012) points out that there is a “lengthy history of Orientalist tropes” of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. (7). The news media, in particular, have played “a crucial role in making the Middle East, and Islam in particular, meaningful to Americans as a place that breeds terrorism” (Alsultany 2012, 9). In her research on the “genealogy of the emergence of the Arab [and Muslim] terrorist threat in the U.S. commercial media,” Alsultany has discovered that, “while 9/11 is a new historical moment, it is also part of a longer history in which viewers have been primed by the media to equate Arabs and Muslims first with dissoluteness and patriarchy/misogyny and then with terrorism” (9). Earlier examples can be found in news reports on “the Munich Olympics (1972) . . . the Iran hostage crisis (1979–80), and airplane hijackings in the 1970s and 1980s” (Alsultany 2012, 8–9). From the 1970s to September 11, 2001, news reports on domestic and international acts of terror like these noticeably shifted Americans’ main association of Arabs and Muslims from oil and exoticism to transnational terrorism. Even if, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some “sympathetic” representations of Arabs and Muslims were proffered in news reports, TV dramas, and public service announcements to showcase American multiculturalism, “hate crimes, workplace discrimination, bias incidents, and airline discrimination targeting Arab and Muslim Americans increased exponentially” (Alsultany 2012, 4). In the decade following 9/11, white supremacist attacks committed in the name of “national security” were, almost without exception, acts of pure racism. It is against such a historical backdrop that Waldman’s novel is set to dramatize the heightened tension between “patriotic” white American and Muslims, be they Americans or not. The novel highlights Islamphobia and anti-Muslim racism as a part of American life in the post-9/11 era by delineating the news media’s zealous coverage of the controversy surrounding Khan’s memorial design. Foregrounding the intricate relations between the news media and the past is another way in which The Submission stands out as a historian’s novel. In “Reflections on the Underdeveloped,” Jeffrey K. Olick (2014) claims that “journalists can be said to be interested in memory in a variety of ways,” such as covering “memory science and memory politics, as well as commemorative events” (17). In Waldman’s novel, journalists are so eager to cover stories about the 9/11 memorial that Paul, the chairman of the memorial jury, “made it his business to know the beat reporters covering the memorial process” (Waldman 2011b, 35). Alyssa Spier is a beat reporter whose editor decides not to run her unconfirmed report of a Muslim winning the memorial



competition. A less scrupulous newspaper, the New York Post, publishes Spier’s article under the headline, “Mystery Muslim Memorial Mess” (52). Spier’s breaking news, though unconfirmed, is snapped up by other news outlets, and she is “booked on three television news programs” and does “four radio interviews” (58) the same morning the story is printed. Spier’s popularity illustrates the media’s fervor in covering the 9/11 memorial. Waldman also shows how journalists and anchors reincorporate the horrors of 9/11 into their story of the 9/11 memorial competition in order to attract viewers, keep 9/11 alive in the public memory, and continue morally hammering terrorists. Even if, as Michael Schudson (2014) argues, journalists don’t generally commemorate the past, their reference to the past makes the present story “comprehensible” (88). That is, by keeping the past alive, they call “the reader or viewer’s attention to a story—‘look at me!’” and explain “what an event means—help[ing] the audience understand the story—‘let me explain’” (Schudson 2014, 88). In the novel, when the Post runs the news with “the photo of an unidentifiable man in a balaclava, scary as a terrorist” (Waldman 2011b, 51–52), it boosts sales of Spier’s coverage. More straightforward than the Post photo’s suggestive implication of Khan as a terrorist is the Fox News anchor’s statement of the memorial design as “a martyrs’ paradise,” backed up by “a panel of experts on radical Islam” (116). By linking Kahn to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Fox’s pundits prime audiences to see Khan’s garden as a secret dedication to 9/11 terrorists. One of the experts, for example, says seriously, “As we all know by now, the terrorists who carried this out believed their act would get them to paradise,” and a second alleges, “Their remains are in that ground, too. He’s made a tomb, a graveyard, for them, not the victims” (116). These unsubstantiated yet provocative comments on Khan’s memorial design stir up American fears against Muslims and fan the flames of 9/11 memories. To bolster these anti-Muslim sentiments, advertisements against the Garden are aired during news programs, displaying “a montage of the attack’s most harrowing sights and sounds” (168). When images of 9/11 are juxtaposed with Khan’s memorial design, a link between the Muslim architect and terrorists is firmly forged in the audience’s minds, even though it is groundless. In an age of information, the mass media can easily shape collective memory. The Submission cautions its readers against the danger of turning collective memory into competitive memory. According to Motti Neiger et al. (2011) in On Media Memory, the media “operate as memory agents”



(2). When the journalists in Waldman’s novel emphasize 9/11  in their reports on the memorial design, they do not merely provide information or facts but actively shape the audience’s collective memory. In designing the memorial, Khan conceived of the Garden as a home for the 9/11 victims and a place for the families to mourn the dead and heal their trauma, and many accept it that way. For example, when Claire tells her six-year-­ old son, William, about the Garden, he draws “the trees and flowers, the pathways and canals,” picturing the Garden as “a place where his father will live” (Waldman 2011b, 34, 112). In addition, there are many non-­ Islamic influences on the design, as Khan explains in the public hearing, “from Japanese gardens, to modern artists and architects like Mondrian and Mies van der Rohe” (217). Nonetheless, these different cultural and artistic influences on the design, as well as different ways of remembering 9/11, are not included in the mainstream media’s reports and broadcasts. As we have learned from Maurice Halbwachs’s theories (Chap. 2), by conflating Muslims narrowly with the Arabs and misleadingly with Islamic terrorists, the media forge a monolithic, moralistic, white American memory of 9/11. The group identity that is constructed through such mediated collective memory rules out any chance of Muslim belonging, and the memorial design competition turns out to produce competition rather than cohesion and bonding among American people of different cultural and religious backgrounds in terms of commemorating those who lose their lives under the terrorist attacks on 9/11. At the same time as it underscores the decisive role that the media play in shaping the audience’s collective memory and the serious consequences of competitive memory that the media’s dominant moralistic interpretation of 9/11 may induce, The Submission manifests how, in the age of globalization, interconnections created by religious movements, diasporas, artistic production, and relocation generate friction and unrest in American society. In the novel, not only some 9/11 families and frantically protesting right-wing activist groups like Save America from Islam (SAFI), but even some of the jurors wish to overturn the final results of the selection. The leader of SAFI, for example, is incited by the news media to repeatedly call the Garden “an Islamic garden . . . a code to jihadis” (117). Frank, whose son died in the terrorist attacks while fighting fires, represents another voice of dissent. Frank and his family are outraged when they learn that Khan is a Muslim. When a reporter phones to ask them about the Garden, Frank replies, “No, sir this is not Islamphobia. Because phobia means fear and I’m not afraid of them” (56). Like his son, who



heroically fought fire and saved people on 9/11 until he was overcome, Frank is determined to safeguard his son’s and the nation’s memorial. He tells the reporter, “we plan to fight this until our last breath” because “[i]t’s supposed to be his memorial, not theirs,” and we do not “want one of their names over his [dead son] grave” (56). Lying at the core of these activists’ angry resistance to the Garden is not merely racism and religious bigotry, but rather a paranoid desire, in an age of globalization, to solidify the nation as a religiously and ethnically homogeneous entity exclusive to white Americans. In their struggle to shape their world according to white supremacist views, many of these Americans are probably ignorant of the experiences of Muslim immigrants, and have little or no understanding of the full complexity of their religious and socio-cultural norms. In these people’s U.S.-centric view, Islam is tantamount to terrorism, just as Khan’s Garden is tantamount to a martyrs’ paradise. Frank’s other son, Sean, organizes the Memorial Defense Committee and leads its members in a rally to “protect” the World Trade Center site in the plaza opposite, which is crowded with “hundreds of relatives of the attack victims,” from across the country (149). These family members and relatives of the attack victims lay claim to the World Trade Center site and compete with other groups for both the site and the right to control how the victims are memorialized. In their view, “a silent group of counterprotesters standing on the sidewalk,” most of whom “looked Muslim—headscarves on the women, beards on the men, dark skin” (152), are their competitors, if not out-an-out enemies. In the words of Michael Rothberg (2009), their conception of collective memory as competitive memory is “a notion of the public sphere as a pregiven, limited space in which already-established groups engage in a life-and-death struggle” (5). They fail to apprehend “memory’s multidirectionality” that is “subject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing” (Rothberg 2009, 5). In a transnational age, the negotiation that generates productive and dynamic memory demands people’s understanding of the complexity of other cultures and religions, as well as “forms of commonality with others” (Rothberg 2009, 5). And yet, when seeing the counterprotesters holding signs, saying “WE ALSO ARE AMERICANS” and “BIGOTS=IDIOTS,” Sean is enraged to the point that he impulsively attempts to pull off a Muslim woman’s hijab (152–53). In less than a week after the rally, a second person tries to rip off a hijab in a Queens shopping mall, and then another in Boston, the trend eventually escalating to more



than a dozen incidents around the country. The hijab pullers, mostly men, claim “it’s an act of liberation” (170). Nonetheless, as more than a few scholars have pointed out, wearing a headscarf is not inherently oppressive. There are various, complicated reasons behind it. Some women cover their heads, for example, to demonstrate “their submission to God,” to “signal pride in their ethnic identity,” or to resist “standards of feminine beauty that demand more exposure” (Killian 2019). Moreover, a hijab, indicating the adoption of “a set of practices for a modest lifestyle” is not just for women but also for men (Ahmad and Quraishi-Landes 2019). From a Muslim women’s perspective, Sean’s and his followers’ presumptive heroic acts of liberation deprives them of their agency to choose what to wear. If liberty, a principle that Americans profess to celebrate, means the freedom of the citizens to practice their religious or political beliefs, the Muslim women whose hijabs are pulled off are not being liberated but rather oppressed in the American society they live in. In the memorial competition that revolves around the link between memory and identity, Muslim immigrants are the losers. Even if some of them are families of the 9/11 victims, they lose the right to mourn, as well as the freedom of movement and the right to freely practice their religious beliefs. As the character Asma Anwar, a Bangladeshi widow in the novel points out, “most women in Kensington who covered their heads had stopped leaving the neighborhood, if not their homes” (170). Braver than most Muslim women in her neighborhood, donning her hijab, Asma ventures from her home and speaks out for Khan’s Garden at the 9/11 memorial public hearing. Having lost her husband on 9/11, Asma believes that the Garden is an appropriate memorial because “that is what America is—all the people Muslim and non-Muslim, who have come and grown together” (231). Unfortunately, even in defending her understanding of American ideals of acceptance and courage by pointing out the multicultural hue that the Garden could add to American landscape, her fate after the hearing ironically illustrates that an all-inclusive Garden might not be an appropriate symbol for an American memorial. It is not because the Garden’s designer is a Muslim, but because the nation is not really as cosmopolitan and hospitable as Asma had thought. After the hearing, Asma faces deportation when it is revealed that neither she nor her late husband had become properly naturalized citizens. No matter how tragic her story, as the fictionalized American president “apologetically” explains, “immigrant officials couldn’t turn a blind eye to her status” (247). Moreover, “politicians had whipped the public into a frenzy of fear over the



thousands of untracked Bangladeshi Muslims in New York” (247). In the novel’s alterative world, just as in the real one post 9/11, immigration policies are tightened to make sure that illegal immigrants like Asma and her husband cannot enter the U.S. and thereby endanger national security. The ensuing uproar worsens with the terrifying murder of Asma. Khan eventually withdraws his submission from the competition and goes into exile. The Submission reveals a plausible alternative outcome which might have happened if a Muslim American had won the 9/11 memorial competition in 2003, and offers possible causes of the nightmarish scenarios. As the novel suggests, in the age of information, the media play an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the public’s collective memory of history and influencing their perception of the world. Collective memory can be easily mutated into competitive memory that can lead to highly undesirable conclusions, such as those of the novel’s nightmarish scenarios, if memories are linked exclusively to identities. The “what if?” scenarios may be counterfactual, but the controversy surrounding the construction of Khan’s Garden as a national memorial is no doubt plausible, given the paranoia about Islamic fundamentalists and anti-Muslim racism in the wake of 9/11. In terms of historical precedents, the novel’s alternate history is based partly on public opinion expressed regarding Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which, as mentioned previously, is the model for Waldman’s Garden and is frequently referred to in the novel. Waldman’s explicit allusions to the backlash against Lin’s design are likely to stir memories of both the Vietnam War and 9/11, both of which stand as powerful refutations to the idea of American exceptionalism (Chap. 5). Through historical allusions, Waldman shapes an alternative world that is uncannily similar to the actual reality in the early 1980s, when the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial started, albeit at different historical periods and involving different ethnic groups. By altering the immediate past post-9/11 and echoing the aftereffects of the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War, Waldman’s novel shows that “literature’s worldly force is no longer mimetic or constructive but an enactment of worlding by the gift of time” (Cheah 2016, 18). The novel’s worldly force would be especially effective if Khan’s Garden is viewed not only as a counterfactual design but as a mnemonic device that evokes the reader’s memories of Vietnam and shows the present to be “shadowed or haunted by a past which is not immediately visible but is progressively brought into view” (Silverman 2015, 3). Although Lin’s memorial is real and Khan’s is fictional, the interconnections between



different moments of racialized violence caused by competitive memories cannot but impress readers with the plausibility of the novel’s post-9/11 counterfactual scenarios. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is first mentioned in the novel when the jury is debating the best design for the 9/11 memorial. The Void imitates the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in terms of the color and materials used. Lin’s memorial is a black granite V-shaped wall inscribed with the names of the American soldiers lost in the Vietnam War. In a similar fashion, the Void, one of the other designs competing for acceptance with the Garden, is a “towering black granite rectangle, some twelve stories high, centered in a huge oval pool,” which would reflect the names of the dead “carved onto [the] surface” of the building (4). In Claire’s opinion, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is incomparably better than the Void. Despite its also being made of black stone, the Void “miss[es] the point” because “the names on the Void couldn’t be reached or even seen properly” (4). In contrast, Lin’s design succeeds with its “deeply personal quality of the Wall,” as David  Jacobson maintains in Place and Belonging in America (2002, 147). The Wall allows “[m]embers of the public, especially but not only veterans, and family and friends of the lost soldiers, [to] leave personal memorabilia, poems, and letters, each a story unto itself” (Jacobson 2002, 147). To Claire, the Garden appears to be more healing and consoling than the Void, although the latter also has its supporters. At the beginning of the novel, when the jurors cite Lin’s memorial as a point of reference, their heated yet apolitical debate revolves around the artistic styles of the two designs and their possible effects on the visitors. As soon as the Garden is chosen as the winning design and the jury learns the architect is Muslim, the other similarities between Khan and Lin are quickly pointed out. The jury fears a nationwide backlash against Khan’s design similar to the one against Lin’s when it won the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition. The jury’s fear suggests that the American society might not have changed much since the 1980s with regard to the perception of public memorials and attitudes toward non-­ white Americans. Jacobson (2002) asserts that, under the influence of secular nationalism, American people have long “develop[ed] a moral association with this land” (2). “[W]ar memorials and national monuments come to symbolize nation and country” when “the people and the land [are] tied together in an organic and sacred unity” (Jacobson 2002, 7). Under the circumstances, both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial—as public memorials—are expected to “anchor the



body politic, communal commitment, identity and solidarity” and “determine who ‘belongs’ to the nation and on what terms” (Jacobson 2002, 146, 128). Like Lin, Khan is not seen as really belonging to the nation. When his Muslim identity is revealed, one of the jurors cries out “Jesus fucking Christ! It’s a goddamn Muslim!” (16). When the shock slowly subsides, another juror comments, “It’s Maya Lin all over again. But worse” (17). Through the juror’s apprehension about historical recurrence in these opening pages, Waldman raises the fundamental questions of why history repeats itself and whether or not we can stop it. These are important questions as regards the debate about historical inevitability and contingency, as well as the role that human agency plays in determining the development of history. Constructing “what if?” scenarios to evoke readers’ fear for historical recurrences of strikingly similar events, Waldman’s novel is rife with historical resonance. It demonstrates that people, events, and emotions from the past linger on in the collective memory and can reemerge as a result of specific circumstances and chains of causality. The protest of some of the jurors, 9/11 families, and activist groups against Khan’s design resonates with the objection of some Vietnam veterans to Lin’s design. In the documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994), directed by Freida Lee Mock, Lin remembers the objection due to her ethnic as well as gender identity: “It took me months to realize obviously a lot of people are going to be extremely offended that the creation of the ‘American’ Vietnam Veterans Memorial is not only not a veteran but she is a ‘she,’ she is ‘Asian.’” At that time, according to Adrian Parr (2008) in Deleuze and Memorial Culture, Lin “quickly became the vehicle through which some veterans made their own anger, frustrations, and hurt appear” (57). For example, “[c]artoons were publicly released and disseminated accentuating Lin’s Asian features holding a sign with ‘designer’ written on it and a group of veterans looking down on her saying ‘Hi Mama San’” (Parr 2008, 57). Even though Lin is a Chinese American rather than Vietnamese, some veterans wished to disqualify her design for a national memorial commemorating the war and honoring the dead because of her “not having American roots” (Parr 2008, 57). The reactions of Frank, Sean, and other 9/11 victims’ family members inform the novel’s younger readers and remind older ones of the history of the Vietnam memorial and the impact its controversy had on veterans. In the novel’s alternative world, Khan’s design turns out to be more controversial than Lin’s not only because his identity is even more sensitive but because, unlike Lin, he refuses to make any compromises. Lin’s



design was approved on the condition that Frederick Hart be commissioned to create, near the Wall, a bronze statue—the Three Soldiers—in the traditional heroic tradition to appease disgruntled veterans. An American flag was also added to the memorial complex. In effect, the American flag “turn[s] the wall into a classical pedestal base lending support to a more nationalistically defined gesture waving the stars and stripes” (Parr 2008, 58). In the novel, at the height of the uproar, one of the officials, Paul, who is said to have “dealt with the Asian crisis” (Waldman 2011b, 129) surrounding Lin’s memorial, tries to persuade Khan to compromise. Yet, Khan refuses to “partner with a landscape architect” or to “get someone else’s name on the project” (137) just to increase his chances of getting the governor’s and the public’s approval. To talk Khan into reconsidering his decision, Paul asks, “You think Maya Lin wanted that statue of the soldiers near her memorial?” (138). Paul’s rhetorical question shows that he is well aware of Lin’s forced concessions, suggesting that Khan also compromise to solve the problem. When people remember and yet make no effort to learn lessons from the backlash against Lin and her design, history is destined to repeat itself. Waldman’s novel proved itself to be not only an alternate history novel but a prescient warning, as it eerily foresaw, prior to its publication, the controversy over Park51 in 2010. In 2010, groups like the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America protested against a planned Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan and called the community center the “Ground Zero Mosque.” The Submission was written largely before the uproar but published a year later, and yet, it “accomplishes the rare feat of being prescient after the fact, a counterfactual novel that turns out to be accurate in all the details that matter” (Row 2011). While some may regard this as merely a coincidence, the novel’s counterfactual scenarios do resonate powerfully with the controversy surrounding the development of the Park51 Islamic Community Center, as well as the backlash against Lin’s memorial wall. When the sense of historical resonance or fear of historical recurrence provoked while reading the novel turns out to truly be prophetic of the reader’s emergent present, then alternate history novels such as The Submission prove themselves to be “not just about history” but “very much also about the present and the future” (Morgan and Palmer-Patel 2019, 11). The possible world that Waldman creates is not a numbing repetition of history. Instead, it draws lessons from the backlash against Lin’s design to proffer a representation of post-9/11 paranoia



about Muslims, compelling readers to alter perceptions of their own history, present, and potential futures and to find alternatives to their existing world.

Conclusion The four novels discussed in this chapter manifest a transnational trend toward altering the history of the post-9/11 era. Alternate history is not just an exercise of imagination, but it also provides a means of judging the present and the historical events being examined. Through the strategies of universalization, aestheticization, and relativization respectively, The Execution Channel, Osama, and The Mirage normalize the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. These novels and their reception by both reviewers and the public show that, a decade after 9/11, the traumatic impacts were weakening, and hence 9/11 was remembered less powerfully than before as an aberration. By creating an alternative world in which the geopolitical situations of the U.S. and Middle East in the War on Terror are reversed, The Mirage challenges the moralistic interpretative frame that dominated early 9/11 trauma narratives. Rife with terrorist attacks, The Execution Channel and Osama shift attention from trauma victims to perpetrators and terror suspects who roam around the world. The Submission adopts a similarly transnational approach, and like The Mirage, its protagonists are ordinary Muslims through whom dissenting views of the furor surrounding 9/11 are presented. Whereas 11/9 turns out to be specious and history returns to its normal course in The Mirage, white Americans’ and Muslims’ competing memories of 9/11 are brought to the fore in The Submission, whose counterfactual scenarios also resonate with the backlash against Lin’s Vietnam memorial and Park51, thereby triggering readers’ connective memories of these racial clashes. The Submission is apparently more concerned with worlding in temporal terms than the other novels, as it takes the ongoing processes of worlding and the dynamics of memory as its central themes. Waldman’s novel exemplifies how the best alternate history fiction can also function as world literature. Its alternate history exercises the normative force of world literature by revealing the vital role that the media play in the age of information in shaping both our collective memory and our historical understanding of the past, as well as the conflicts and interconnections produced by the encounters of different cultures and religions resulting from transnational migrations. Instead of resorting to magic or



sorcery to change the world or render human efforts in vain, as seen in the other three novels, The Submission prioritizes human agency in deciding and changing the development of history. The novel ends, twenty years after it begins, with Claire’s son, William, and his girlfriend, Molly, interviewing Khan in Mumbai for a documentary they are filming to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the memorial competition. As opposed to the news media that work as memory agents or to the traditional memorial that fixes people’s memories in physical space and comes to symbolize the nation, William and Molly’s documentary is intended as a “living” memorial (Walkowitz 2012). To record the story of Khan’s failed Garden, William and Molly interview those involved in the controversy and invite them to watch and respond to each other’s interviews. To some extent, the documentary “mirrors the structure of the novel since once more some of the main participants in the controversy have a chance to look back and reflect on the decisions they made twenty years ago” (Baelo-Allué 2016, 179). It also bespeaks William’s personal effort to heal his own wounds and to help Khan and Claire (Claire had eventually turned against the Garden) to understand each other’s viewpoints. Ending the novel on a positive note, Waldman suggests that to look forward, one has to look backwards. The novel’s future-making ending points toward “[t]he openness of the world,” which, “in a normative sense refers to the being-with of all peoples, groups, and individuals” (Cheah 2016, 19). That world to come could be an alternative to the novel’s alternative world and to the reader’s existing one.

Notes 1. For more details, see Chap. 2 2. For more details on the criticism of alternate history fiction, including Edward Hallett Carr’s, see Chap. 2.

References Ahmad, Nadia B., and Asifa Quraishi-Landes. “Five Myths about Hijab.” Washington Post. 16 Mar. 2019. Web. 5 Feb. 2020. . Alsultany, Evelyn. Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11. New York: New York UP, 2012.



Baelo-Allué, Sonia. “From the Traumatic to the Political: Cultural Trauma, 9/11 and Amy Waldman’s The Submission.” ATLANTIS: Journal of the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies 38.1 (2016): 165–83. Baxter, Stephen. “Osama.” Foundation 40.113 (2011): 78–79. Black, Jeremy, and Donald M. MacRaild. Studying History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Brack, Duncan, ed. President Gore and Other Things that Never Happened. London: Politico’s, 2006. Carr, Edward Hallett. What Is History? 1961. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Cheah, Pheng. “What Is a World? On World Literature as World-making Activity.” Daedalus 137.3 (2008): 26–38. ———. What Is a World?: On Postcolonial Literature as World Literature. Durham: Duke UP, 2016. DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. London: Picador, 2007. Doležel, Lubomir. Possible Worlds of Fiction and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. Estévez-Saá, Margarita, and Noemí Pereira-Ares. “Trauma and Transculturalism in Contemporary Fictional Memories of 9/11.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 57. 3 (2016): 268–78. Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Gallagher, Catherine. Telling It like It Wasn’t: Counterfactual Imagination in History and Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2018. Goldberg, M. K., J. J. Brattin, and M. Engel. On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993. Hellekson, Karen. The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time. Kent: Kent State UP, 2001. Jacobson, David. Place and Belonging in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002. Kalfus, Ken. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country. London: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Kaye, Simon T. “Challenging Certainty: The Utility and History of Counterfactualism.” History and Theory 49 (2010): 38–57. Keeble, Arin. The 9/11 Novel: Trauma, Politics and Identity. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014. Killian, Caitlin. “Why Do Muslim Women Wear a Hijab?” Conversation. 15 Jan. 2019. Web. 5 Feb. 2020. . MacLeod, Ken. The Execution Channel. London: Orbit, 2007a. ———. “The New British Catastrophe.” Interview by Paul Raven. SF Site. Feb. 2007b. Web. 15 Feb. 2020. . Marr, Alexander. “Possible Uses of Counterfactual Thought Experiments in History.” Principia 18.1 (2014): 87–113.



McFarlane, Anna. “Time and Affect After 9/11: Lavie Tidhar’s Osama: A Novel.” Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction. Ed. Glyn Morgan and Charul Palmer-Patel. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2019. 92–108. Messud, Claire. “Novel of Grief, Memorials and a Muslim Architect in Post-9/11 America.” New York Times. New  York Times, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2020. . Mock, Freida Lee, dir. Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. New York: American Film Foundation, 1994. Morgan, Glyn, and C.  Palmer-Patel. Introduction. Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction. Ed. Morgan and Palmer-Patel. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2019. 11–30. Neiger, Motti, Oren Meyers, and Eyal Zandberg, eds. “On Media Memory: Editors’ Introduction.” On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 1–26. O’Connell, Hugh Charles. “The Boom’s Near Future: Postnational Ill-Fantasy, or Literature under the Sign of Crisis.” CR: The New Centennial Review 13.2 (2013): 67–100. Olick, Jeffrey K. “Reflections on the Underdeveloped: Relations between Journalism and Memory Studies.” Journalism and Memory. Ed. Barbie Zelizer and Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 17–31. Orthofer, Michael. Rev. of The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod. Complete Review. 27 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Feb. 2020. . Parr, Adrian. Deleuze and Memorial Culture: Desire, Singular Memory and the Politics of Trauma. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008. Peter, Ferry. “The Beard, Masculinity, and Otherness in the Contemporary American Novel.” Journal of American Studies 51.1 (2017): 163–82. Rev. of The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod. Publishers Weekly 254.16 (2007): 36. Rev. of The Mirage, by Matt Ruff. Kirkus Reviews 80.1 (2012): 2384. Rev. of The Mirage, by Matt Ruff. Publishers Weekly 258.47 (2011): 33. Rosenfeld, Gavriel. “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Functions of Alternate History.” History and Theory 41 (2002): 90–103. ———. The World Hitler Never Made. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolinization. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009. Row, Jess. “What Just Happened?” New York. Vox Media, 28 July 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2020. . Ruff, Matt. The Mirage. New York: HarperCollins, 2012a.



———. “Islam and Sci Fi Interview of Matt Ruff.” Interview by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad. Islam and Science Fiction.12 Feb. 2012b. Web. 6 Jan. 2020. . ———. “Conjuring The Mirage.” The Mirage. New  York: HarperCollins, 2012c. 4–11. Samatar, Sophia. Rev. of The Mirage, by Matt Ruff. Strang Horizons. 5 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 Jan. 2020. . Schimmelpfennig, Annette, and Tim Lanzendörfer. “Postmodern Autonomy and the Poetics of Genre in Matt Ruff’s Novels.” The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel. Ed. Tim Lanzendörfer. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015. 161–80. Schudson, Michael. “Journalism as a Vehicle of Non-Commemorative Cultural Memory.” Journalism and Memory. Ed. Barbie Zelizer and Keren Tenenboim-­ Weinblatt. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 85–96. Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. The Writing on the Wall. New York: Counterpoint, 2005. Seval, Ayşem. “(Un)tolerated Neighbour: Encounters with the Tolerated Other in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Submission.” Ariel 48.2 (2017): 101–25. Shamsie, Kamila. “The Submission by Amy Waldman  – Review.” Guardian. 24 Aug. 2011. Web. 13 Jan. 2020. . Silverman, Max. Palimpsestic Memory: The Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film. New York: Berghahn, 2015. Tidhar, Lavie. “My Travels with Al-Qaeda.” Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy. Ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006. 172–83. ———. Osama. Hornsea: PS Publishing, 2011. Kindle ebook file. ———. Interview by Stephen Jewell. Gamesradar+. 7 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Jan. 2020. . ———. Interview by John Dodds. Amazing Stories. 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2020. . Versluys, Kristiaan. “9/11 as a European Event: The Novels.” European Review 15.1 (2007): 65–79. Waldman, Amy. “Fact and Fiction: Amy Waldman on Exploring 9/11 through Writing.” Interview by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz. The Atlantic. 31 Aug. 2011a. Web. 11 Feb. 2020. . ———. The Submission. New York: Farrar, 2011b. Walkowitz, Rebecca L. “Building Character.” Public Books: Virtual Roundtable on Amy Waldman’s The Submission. 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2020. .



Williamson, Vicky. Rev. of The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod. Socialist Review 314 (2007): n. pag. Web. 15 Feb. 2020. . Witt, Emily. “Amy Waldman’s The Submission: Not a 9/11 Novel.” Observer. 6 Sept. 2011.Web. 1 Jan. 2020. . Young, James E. “Counterfactual 9/11-Memorial Storm Hits NYC.” Public Books: Virtual Roundtable on Amy Waldman’s The Submission. 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2020. .


“Our Pearl Harbor Moment, Our 9/11 Moment”

Historical analogies are frequently drawn to make sense of novel events, including diseases. In the final stage of completing this manuscript, the coronavirus Covid-19 is affecting 210 countries and territories around the world. As of March 27, 2020, the U.S. has surpassed China and Italy in confirmed coronavirus cases, making the U.S. the new epicenter of the pandemic. Just as Pearl Harbor was quickly invoked on September 11, 2001 as an analogy to the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 now serve as a cognitive shortcut to help American people comprehend what is happening in an age of the coronavirus. On April 5, 2020, Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned, on Fox News Sunday, that Palm Sunday, starting the Holy Week before Easter, might be “the hardest and the saddest” for “most Americans’ lives.” He then made historical allusions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to describe the impending and immeasurable loss that many families would face in the probably toughest week in the fight against the coronavirus. As he told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.” Adams’s reference to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor invokes memories that are “now circulating within a generation that had no direct recollection of the attack,” especially in the case of Pearl Harbor attack (Rosenberg 2004, 2). The 9/11 and Pearl Harbor analogies were quickly picked up by many news outlets around the world and appeared in headlines, such as “‘This is © The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




going to be our Pearl Harbor’” on USA Today  (Cummings 2020), “US surgeon general warns of ‘Pearl Harbor moment’ as Americans face ‘hardest week’” on the Guardian (2020), “‘Pearl Harbor, 9/11 moment’ as coronavirus batters the US” on Al Jazeera (2020), “Pearl Harbor, 9/11: Virus raises specter of gravest attacks in modern US times” on the Times of Israel (Weissert and Freking 2020), and “Coronavirus: America faces new ‘Pearl Harbor, 9/11’” on the Australian (Stewart 2020). The question is, to quote Emily Rosenberg (2004), how “those refreshed and updated memories would shape the reactions to a new, even more deadly surprise attack” (2). On Fox News Sunday, Adams did not elaborate on the similarities between Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the coronavirus pandemic, and neither did he seem to realize the political implications of comparing 9/11 to Pearl Harbor or comparing the pandemic to the two events. Instead of explaining how those refreshed memories of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 would shape the reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, he simply advised American people to stay home for the entire month or seven days at least to pass the hardest week. Adams might have invoked the popular memories of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to warn American people about the rising death toll caused by the coronavirus disease, but the comparison of the pandemic to the two historical events has its dangers. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration used the Pearl Harbor analogy to invoke “a familiar, even comforting, narrative: a sleeping nation, a treacherous attack, and the need to rally patriotism and ‘manly’ virtues on behalf of retribution” (Rosenberg 2004, 2). “Structured by the Pearl Harbor,” as Rosenberg further elaborates, “September 11 seemed the prelude to another struggle between good and evil” (2). It quickly became apparent that the Pearl Harbor metaphor was manipulated to influence public opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to justify the Patriot Act. Just as Japanese American internment immediately followed Pearl Harbor, racial profiling was enacted and hate crimes perpetrated against Arab and Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11. American entry into WWII and declaration of the War on Terror bespoke the American government’s endeavors to defeat Japanese imperialism and al-Qaeda’s transnational network of terrorism, and yet, they simultaneously turned Japanese Americans and Arab and Muslim Americans into the “evil” racial others as either the enemy aliens or enemy combatants. The neo-interment narratives and post-9/11 alternate history novels discussed respectively in Chaps. 4 and 6 manifest the immediate and transgenerational traumatic impacts of Japanese American interment, as well as the moralistic framework within



which 9/11 has been predominantly interpreted in a way that excludes Muslims from commemorating the event. In the current context of the pandemic, the common enemy that the U.S. and the world are facing is, without question, the coronavirus, but the way that the Trump administration has been dealing with it has turned immigrants, especially Chinese and Asian Americans, into the enemies. Trump insistently called coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and defended his habit at a White House press conference, saying that “It’s not racist at all” but rather “accurate” because the virus “comes from China” (qtd. in Mangan 2020). Even if the coronavirus disease originated in 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, many doctors assert that ethnicity does not cause the virus. At a news conference when asked about Trump’s use of the term, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said “Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank” (qtd. in Kopecki 2020). Dr. Ryan then cautioned, “So it’s really important we be careful in the language we use lest it lead to the profiling of individuals associated with the virus” (qtd. in Kopecki 2020). Trump’s characterization of coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” has incited Sinophobia as well as xenophobia, discrimination, and violence, as evidenced by the increasing incidents of hate crimes and racist attacks against Asian Americans. The headline of Lauren Aratani’s (2020) article on the Guardian, “‘Coughing while Asian’: living in fear as racism feeds off coronavirus panic,” catches precisely the fears that many Asians have been feeling of both the virus and racism. In addition to deploying the “Chinese virus” rhetoric, Trump has also sought to block immigration over coronavirus. On April 22, Trump signed an executive order limiting immigration to the U.S. for the next sixty days. The action to temporarily pause immigration, as Trump stated before beginning his daily press briefing at the White House, is “to put American communities and workers first as we move toward safely reopening the economy.”1 Trump’s proclaimed commitment to put American communities first while inciting violence against Asian Americans in such ways as to divide the nation along racial lines renders his “America First” policy suspicious and confirms, once again, the perpetual fear that Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) has aroused in its contemporary readers of the home constantly under threat by expected and unexpected national policies. Roth (2004)  depicts the U.S.  under the presidency of fictionalized  Lindbergh, who, since the novel’s publication, has been



commonly seen as the uncanny double of President Bush and Trump (see Chap. 3). If, as Adams said, this is “our Pearl Harbor moment” and “9/11 moment,” post-9/11 historical fiction and alternate history fiction that evokes multidirectional memory of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and other historical events and national tragedies can provide guidance on how to respond to the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. At present, fear penetrates and regulates many important aspects of human lives, making social distancing, staying at home, and wearing masks regular daily routines. Dealing with perpetual fear, Roth’s novel exemplifies “ordinary ethics” (Das 2012, 134), demonstrating how Philip, Roth’s child protagonist, renews the everyday life under conditions of violent anti-Semitism by becoming a caregiver and recognizing his moral responsibilities for others. Being forced to give up his habit and hobby of collecting stamps, Philip learns to bandage Alvin’s stump through repeated practices and shares a room with Seldon, who becomes a homeless orphan after losing his mother in an anti-Semitic riot. Philip provides a good example on how to develop new habits to counteract the effects of fear and how to carry on with normal life under abnormal conditions when life is drastically changed by unexpected attacks. Japanese American neo-internment narratives, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and post-9/11 alternate history novels such as Amy Waldman’s The Submission, emphasize the intersection of different ethnic groups’ histories of victimization, as seen in the multidirectional memories that the novels trigger of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Japanese American internment, Native American dispossession and removal, Vietnam War, African American slavery, and Islamphobia. As my textual analyses in the previous chapters have shown, calling forth multidirectional and collective memory of different historical events, these novels do not suggest easy and complete identification with others. Instead, they contextualize the events under comparison and notice the tensions in inter-racial relations especially when resources are limited. And yet, historical relatedness beyond uniqueness manifests multidirectional memory that, after mutual understanding is achieved, can be transformed into connective memory, based on which cross-racial and transnational solidarity can be formed. If history provides guidance for current events, we learn from these novels about past wrongs caused by racism, xenophobia, and discrimination, as well as the lingering impacts of these traumatic events on later generations. To prevent historical recurrence, now we must stand in solidarity to fight against racism and our common enemy—coronavirus.



Hopefully soon the pandemic will be over. Before that day arrives, we should do our best to resume regular life and care for others to stay calm together.

Note 1. For more information, see “President Donald J. Trump Is Honoring His Commitment to Protect American Workers by Temporarily Pausing Immigration” (2020).

References Adams, Jerome. “Surgeon General Jerome Adams on US Response to COVID-19 Crisis.” Interview by Chris Wallace. Fox News Sunday, 5 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Aratani, Lauren. “‘Coughing while Asian’: Living in Fear as Racism Feeds off Coronavirus Panic.” Guardian. 24 Mar. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Cummings, William. “‘This Is Going to Be Our Pearl Harbor’: Surgeon General Warns USA Faces Worst Week of Coronavirus Outbreak.” USA Today. 5 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Das, Veena. “Ordinary Ethics.” A Companion to Moral Anthropology. Ed. Didier Fassin. Malden: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 133–49. Kopecki, Dawn. “WHO Officials Warn US President Trump against Calling Coronavirus ‘the Chinese Virus.’” CNBC. 18 Mar. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Mangan, Dan. “Trump Defends Calling Coronavirus ‘Chinese Virus’—‘It’s not Racist at all.’” CNBC. 18 Mar. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . “‘Pearl Harbor, 9/11 Moment’ as Coronavirus Batters the US.”  Al Jazeera. 6 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. .



“President Donald J. Trump Is Honoring His Commitment to Protect American Workers by Temporarily Pausing Immigration.” Fact Sheets. 22 Apr. 2020. Washington, D.C.: White House. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Rosenberg, Emily. “September 11, through the Prism of Pearl Harbor.” Asia-­ Pacific Journal 2.2 (2004): 1–4. Article ID 1806. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. Boston: Houghton, 2004. Stewart, Cameron. “Coronavirus: America Faces New ‘Pearl Harbor, 9/11.’” Australian. 6 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . “US Surgeon General Warns of ‘Pearl Harbor Moment’ as Americans Face ‘Hardest Week.’” Guardian. 4 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. . Weissert, Will, and Kevin Freking. “Pearl Harbor, 9/11: Virus Raises Specter of Gravest Attacks in Modern US Times.” Times of Israel. 6 Apr. 2020. Web. 23 Apr. 2020. .


NUMBERS AND SYMBOLS 9/11, 2, 5, 22, 29, 37, 40, 44, 51, 64, 83, 87, 88, 93–95, 115, 121–123, 125, 127, 153, 154, 161, 167, 187 history-making event, 2, 6, 7, 29–30 moralistic, 154, 155, 164, 166, 169, 174, 181, 188 trauma narrative, 14, 51, 52, 154, 155, 157, 181 9/11 memorial, 123, 154, 167, 170–173, 176–178 The 9/11 Novel Trauma, Politics and Identity, 168 21st Century Manzanar 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 93 Dineh, 98 mass sterilization, 94 Navajo, 97, 98 Obon festival, 98 Ondo dance, 98

Re-Evacuation (ReVac), 91, 94, 98, 108, 109 See also Miyake, Perry 1862, 33 A Abrams, M. H., 27 Adams, Jerome, 187, 188, 190 Aestheticization, 156, 162, 166, 181 Affect, 61, 124, 162, 170 African American, 118, 130, 136, 137, 139, 140, 145, 146 After the End of History, 23 See also Cohen, Samuel After the Fall, 2 See also Gray, Richard Ahmed, Sara, 61, 64 Ali, Monica, 168, 169 Allegory, 6, 53, 64, 122 Allohistory, 8, 32 See also Alternate history

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2020 P.-c. Liao, Post-9/11 Historical Fiction and Alternate History Fiction,




Al-Qaeda, 93, 149n6, 157, 159–164, 188 Alsultany, Evelyn, 172 The Alternate History, 34 See also Hellekson, Karen Alternate history, 6, 32, 62, 153, 162, 166 estrangement, 33 estranging, 53, 64, 170 human agency, 10, 35, 170 nexus event, 33, 51 parallel world, 33 plausibility, 10, 33, 34, 170 point of divergence, 6 Sidewise Award, 34, 37 America First, 46, 51–74, 189 See also Lindbergh, Charles The American Adam, 3 American dream, 138–141, 145, 146 American exceptionalism, 3, 4, 14, 118, 126, 130, 134–136, 138–140, 146, 148n5, 177 “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History,” 3 See also Tyrrell, Ian “American Fiction after Postmodernism,” 26 See also Savvas, Theophilus American innocence, 3, 14, 117, 125–128, 133, 135, 136, 141 Amis, Martin, 155 Amnesia, 126, 128, 129 Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American History, 28 See also Gauthier, Marni Analogy, 8–13, 65, 75n1, 115 Anderson, Perry, 23, 25, 26, 38 Anker, Elizabeth S., 122, 124 The Antinomies of Realism, 23 See also Jameson, Fredric Anti-Semitism, 9, 11, 29, 41, 51–54, 58, 61–64, 67–71, 73, 74, 75n1, 136, 190

Apocalyptic, 22, 85, 88, 115 Arab American, 88, 89, 92 Arabs and Muslims in the Media, 171–172 The Art and Practice of Historical Fiction, 5 Assimilation, 52, 57–59, 82, 107 Assmann, Aleida, 82 Assmann, Jan, 42, 43 Auerbach, Erich, 27 Autobiography, 8, 13, 39, 62, 75n2 “Autoimmunity,” 2 See also Derrida, Jacques B Baelo-Allué, Sonia, 168, 182 Barrish, Phillip, 125, 126 Beck, John, 88, 92 Beigbeder, Frédéric, 155 Bin Laden, Osama, 93, 159–165 Boym, Svetlana, 13, 117, 125, 126, 138, 145 Brewer, John, 55 Brick Lane, 168 Brooks, Ceraldine, 7 Bush, George H. W., 156, 157 Bush, George W., 6, 11, 12, 54, 64, 65, 67, 74, 76–77n11, 83, 87, 88, 90, 92, 93, 111n3, 126, 129, 134, 148n4, 149n6, 188, 190 C Carlyle, Thomas, 157 Carr, Edward Hallett, 34, 156, 161 Carroll, Hamilton, 124, 125, 127 Catastrophe, 9, 26, 46n1, 158 Censorship, 104, 105 Chabon, Michael, 29, 51, 52 Cheah, Pheng, 154, 166, 169, 177, 182 Chinese virus, 189


Christian, 52, 59, 124, 163, 165 Citizen 13660, 101, 109, 111n2 See also Okubo, Miné City on a hill, 125, 130, 148n5 Civil Liberties Act, 99 See also Redress Movement Civil rights movement, 82, 140 Clash of civilizations, 1, 4 See also Huntington, Samuel Coffman, Christopher K., 3, 4, 16n3, 23, 25–27, 29, 31, 35 Cohen, Samuel, 23, 36 “The Coincidence of Historical Fiction,” 7 See also Lewis, Charles Cold War, 1, 28, 29, 36, 159 The Collective Memory, 40 See also Halbwachs, Maurice Collective memory, 8, 10, 38–45, 74, 101, 125–127, 146, 171, 173–175, 177, 179, 181, 190 Collins, William Joseph, 34 Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), 82, 111n2 Communicative memory, 40, 42 Competitive memory, 43, 154, 173–175, 177, 178 Concentration camp, 106, 110n1 See also Relocation center Connective memories, 14, 15, 118, 154, 181, 190 Conroy, Robert, 33 Consuming History, 23 See also De Groot, Jerome Coronavirus, 187–190 Counterhistories, 28, 56, 74 Countermemories, 8, 28, 88 Critique of Everyday Life, 69 Cross-racial alliance, 87–99, 110 Cultural memory, 8, 11, 40, 42–44, 46, 63, 101, 110, 124


The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 61 See also Ahmed, Sara Cultural trauma, 99–101, 106, 110, 168 D Darton, Eric, 119 Das, Veena, 68, 190 A Date Which Will Live, 12 See also Rosenberg, Emily Davis, Tami R., 130 De Certeau, Michel, 119 De Groot, Jerome, 23, 30 Deleuze and Memorial Culture, 179 See also Parr, Adrian DeLillo, Don, 2, 16n2, 123, 154 DeLuca, Vic, 124 See also Petit’s photo Derrida, Jacques, 2, 92–94 Desert Exile, 82, 101, 109, 111n8 Detective, 159, 160, 164 Diaspora, 8, 15, 154, 174 A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, 154 Documentary, 8, 116, 121, 123, 124, 179 Doležel, Lubomir, 27, 170, 171 Donadio, Rachel, 21, 22 Dream, 103, 105 Drew, Richard, 123, 148n3 Dystopia, 56, 84, 108, 167 E Eggers, Dave, 29 Emergent present, 10, 11, 13, 22, 37, 44, 84, 89, 98, 154, 180 See also Mead, George Herbert Emplotment, 11, 30, 31, 44, 86, 95 The End of History and the Last Man, 1 See also Fukuyama, Francis



Enemy alien, 9, 81, 89, 91–93, 95, 96, 104, 105, 108, 115, 188 Enemy combatant, 89–91, 188 English, James, 23, 24, 30 Erll, Astrid, 101 Ethnic novel, 55, 56 Evacuation Order No. 19, 84 The Execution Channel conspiracy, 158, 159 nuclear weapon, 157, 158 point of divergence, 157 spy, 157, 159 See also MacLeod, Ken Executive Order 9066, 81, 85, 108 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2, 155 F The Facts, 11, 62, 63 See also Roth, Philip Falling man, 123, 129, 130, 148n3, 155 “The Falling Man,” 148n3 See also Drew, Richard Falling Man, 2, 123, 154 See also DeLillo, Don Family trauma, 100, 101 Fantasy, 117, 125, 126, 146, 154, 162, 165 Farewell to Manzanar, 82, 109 Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), 85, 102–104, 109 Ferguson, Niall, 34 Fictionalized Petit, 13, 14, 116, 117, 119, 124, 129, 143 First-person narration, 133, 138, 140, 141, 144 First-person narrator, 62, 75 First-person plural, 90, 91, 105, 145 Fishkin, Shelley Fisher, 4, 30 Flannery, Eóin, 122, 123

Flashback, 63, 103, 136–138, 144–146 Foer, Jonathan Safran, 2, 155 Fong, Edmund, 135, 140 Foucault, Michel, 27 Fox News, 173, 187 Franklin, Bruce, 128, 129, 134, 135 Freud, Sigmund, 128, 129, 132 Fukuyama, Francis, 1, 2, 29, 36 Fundamentalist, 1, 14, 159, 163, 177 The Future of Nostalgia, 13 See also Boym, Svetlana G Gallagher, Catherine, 33–36, 38, 53, 56, 170 Gauthier, Marni, 6, 26–29, 31, 36, 38, 39, 84, 89 The Generation of Postmemory, 8 See also Hirsch, Marianne Gerstein, Mordicai, 13, 121, 148n2 Globalization, 93, 104, 166, 174, 175 God, 119, 142–144, 164, 176 The Good Life, 2 Gore, Albert, 156, 157 Grand narrative, 54–56, 73, 74 Gray, Richard, 2, 3 Great man theory, 157 Ground Zero, 7, 75, 121, 148n4, 180 H Halbwachs, Maurice, 10, 40–42, 126, 174 Hamid, Mohsin, 2, 168, 169 Hellekson, Karen, 32–34, 38, 51, 166, 167 Herren, Graley, 123–125 Herzog, Tobey C., 128, 130 Hirsch, Marianne, 8, 15, 89, 99, 101 Historical allusion, 177, 187


Historical analogies, 9, 12, 43, 44, 46, 65, 83, 86–88, 92, 95, 111n6, 187 Historical contingency, 35, 170, 179 Historical determinism, 170 The Historical Novel, 25 Historical recurrence, 9, 46, 108, 110, 179, 180, 190 Historical resonance, 88, 179, 180 Historical trauma, 15, 63, 100, 115, 166 Historical truth, 25, 27, 29, 31, 38, 45, 53, 54, 67, 74, 86, 109 Historical truthfulness, 31, 86, 101 Historiographic metafiction, 10, 25, 26, 35 History of everyday life, 55, 56 Hitler, Adolf, 58, 63, 70, 71 Hitler wave, 162, 163 Hofner, Johannes, 117 Holocaust, 41, 43, 51, 52, 63, 69, 75n1, 163 Homeland, 117, 126, 134–136, 138, 147 “Homeland Insecurities,” 135 See also Kaplan, Amy Homeland Security, 46, 60, 64, 88, 92, 164 Hook, Derek, 129 Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, 82, 109 Huntington, Samuel, 1, 2 Hussein, Saddam, 163–165 Hutcheon, Linda, 25, 26 I Indian reservation, 96–98 Individualism, 138, 139, 145 Individual memory, 8, 40, 41, 44, 74, 101, 125, 127, 137, 146 Intergenerational, 84, 87, 99, 106, 107, 110


Internment camp, 81, 85, 92, 93, 95, 106, 109, 110n1, 111n5 Manzanar, 85, 111n5 Poston, 85, 95, 100, 105, 111n5, 111n7 Topaz, 85, 99, 104, 111n5 In the Shadow of No Towers, 2, 75n1 Islamphobia, 9, 37, 172, 174, 190 Issei, 81, 82, 85, 86, 93, 100–102, 107, 109, 111n8 J Jacobson, David, 178, 179 Jameson, Fredric, 23, 25, 26 Jap, 96, 107 Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), 108, 111n10 Japanese American internment, 115, 136, 188, 190 Justice, 36, 38, 43, 45, 46, 56, 82, 99, 110 K Kadohata, Cynthia, 13, 29, 43, 83–87, 90, 95–106, 109, 110, 111n4 Kalfus, Ken, 154 Kaplan, Amy, 4, 30, 135 Kaplan, E. Ann, 2 Kaye, Simon, 156, 170 Keeble, Arin, 168, 171 Keightley, Emily, 117, 118, 126 Kellman, Steven G., 64, 65, 76n9, 76n11 Keniston, Ann, 2 Kennedy, John F., 126, 149n8 Kent, Thomas, 39 King, Martin Luther, 140, 141, 144 “I Have a Dream,” 140 Komatsu, Yasuyo, 83 Kotzin, Joshua, 68, 69



L Lanzendörfer, Tim, 9 The Last Days of Muhammad Atta, 155 Lefebvre, Henri, 69 Let the Great World Spin bereaved mother, 120, 129, 143, 146 Bronx, 118, 136, 137, 139, 141, 144 Christ, 124, 143 Corrigan, John, 124, 137, 142–144, 146 flying man, 123, 130, 142 idealized past, 129, 144, 146, 147 Judge Solomon, 120, 132, 133, 143 Locksley Hall, 147 Miró, Miró, on the wall, 131, 132 pilot, 129, 148 prostitute, 118, 133, 139, 141, 144, 145 residue of race, 139, 140, 142 shirt, 123 spinning, 118, 145, 147, 148 suicide, 122, 140 survival, 119, 127, 143, 147 utopia, 125–127, 135 veteran, 129, 132, 133, 146 white liberal guilt, 139, 141 See also McCann, Colum Letter, 8, 102, 104, 105 Lewis, Charles, 5–7, 22, 30, 64, 76n10 Lewis, R. W. B., 3 Lin, Maya, 15, 179, 180 Lindbergh, Charles, 6, 11, 12, 33, 37–39, 46, 81, 115 Lipset, Seymour Martin, 138 Literature after 9/11, 2 Lüdtke, Alf, 55, 56 Lukács, Georg, 25 Lynn-Jones, Sean M., 130

M Mackay, Ruth, 121, 122 MacLeod, Ken, 14, 154, 156–161, 166 Man on Wire, 121–123 See also Marsh, James; Petit, Philippe Manshel, Alexander, 5 The Man Who Walked between the Towers, 121, 148n2 See also Gerstein, Mordicai Marr, Alexander, 170 Marsh, James, 13, 121, 123 McCann, Colum, 7, 13, 14, 26, 29, 41, 43, 44, 115–148 McEwan, Ian, 155 McFarlane, Anna, 161, 162 McInerney, Jay, 2 Mead, George Herbert, 11, 39, 40, 44–46, 86, 87, 110 Melancholia, 117, 127–135 Memoir, 8, 62, 82, 101, 111n8, 119–121, 124 Memory activism, 74 Metahistory, 31 See also White, Hayden Mimesis, 27, 32 Mimetic, 27, 53, 161, 177 The Mirage 11/9, 163–165, 167 jinn, 164–166 New York Times, 164, 171 See also Ruff, Matt The Mirror and the Lamp, 27 Miyake, Perry, 13, 29, 43, 83–89, 91–95, 97–99, 106, 108–110 Moonglow, 29 Morrison, Toni, 28 Morris-Suzuki, Tessa, 31, 86 Mourning, 116, 121, 127–135, 144, 146 “Mourning and Melancholia,” 128 See also Freud, Sigmund


Multicultural, 29, 30, 38, 43, 44, 46, 90, 95, 97–99, 104, 110 Multiculturalism, 74, 168, 169, 172 Multidirectional memory, 5, 8–11, 15, 42–46, 190 Multidirectional Memory, 42 See also Rothberg, Michael Murphy, Emily, 121 Muslim American, 88–93, 95, 110, 167, 168, 172, 177, 188 N Naipaul, V. S., 21, 22 Narrating the Past, 30 See also Robinson, Alan National memory, 125, 126 Native removal, 95, 97 Nazi, 153, 156, 162 Nazi Germany, 52, 63, 72 Nazism, 52, 53, 61, 63 Neo-internment narrative, 29, 45, 83, 84, 101, 104, 190 Netherland, 168 Nisei, 81, 82, 85, 86, 93, 98–102, 106, 107, 109, 111n8 Nixon, Richard, 119, 128, 133, 149n7, 149n8, 149n9 No-No Boy, 82 Normalization, 154–156, 159, 167 Normative force, 154, 166, 167, 181 Norris, Sharon, 24 O O’Connell, Hugh Charles, 159 Office of Indian Affairs, 97 Okada, John, 82 Okimoto, Ruth, 96, 101, 109 Okubo, Miné, 82, 101, 109, 111n2


On Collective Memory, 40 See also Halbwachs, Maurice O’Neil, Joseph, 168, 169 Ordinary ethics, 68, 74, 190 Osama Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), 160, 167 OsamaCon, 160, 162 parallel world, 160, 166 refugees, 160, 162 See also Tidhar, Lavie Otsuka, Julie, 6, 13, 26, 29, 39, 44, 83–91, 95, 99–106, 109, 110, 115 Otten, Birte, 22 Out of the Blue, 2 P Palimpsest, 101 Pandemic, 157, 187–191 Park, Josephine, 88, 89, 104, 105 Park51, 15, 180, 181 Parks, Rosa, 140 Parr, Adrian, 179, 180 Patriot Act, 4, 90, 135, 188 Pearl Harbor, 12, 13, 53, 81, 85, 87–89, 102, 103, 109, 126, 187–191 Personal memories, 29, 41, 62, 74, 76n3 Petit, Philippe, 7, 13, 14, 29, 39, 115–129, 131, 132, 136, 140, 142–144, 146, 147, 149n7 Petit’s photo, 125, 136, 137, 144 tightrope walk, 116, 118–120 A Philosophy of Fear, 61 See also Svendsen, Lars The Philosophy of the Present, 39 See also Mead, George Herbert Pickering, Michael, 117, 118, 126



The Plot Against America activism of the everyday, 69, 74 Americanness, 57, 58, 61, 70 commemorative stamp, 68–70 culture of fear, 54, 63 emotion of fear, 53, 56 ghetto, 60 Good Neighbor Project, 61 habit of collecting stamps, 68, 69, 71 habit of fear, 56, 69, 73 Homestead 42, 58–60 interventionism, 54 isolationism, 54, 58, 62, 65, 69 Jewish enclave, 57, 61 Just Folks, 58–60 nexus event, 75n2 nightmare, 53, 70, 71 Office of American Absorption (OAA), 52, 58–60 orphan, 72, 73 perpetual fear, 56, 61, 63, 64, 68, 74, 189 philatelist, 68, 69 point of divergence, 52, 53 prosthetic, 65, 72, 73, 76n10 segregation, 57, 60 stump, 68, 72, 73, 76n10, 190 Weequahic, 57, 60 See also Roth, Philip Plural uchronia, 167 The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel, 9 A Poetics of Postmodernism, 25 Possible world, 162, 166, 171, 180 See also Alternate history Possible Worlds of Fiction and History, 171 See also Doležel, Lubomir ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction, 3, 6, 21

Postmemory, 8, 13, 89, 99, 101, 106, 110 See also Hirsch, Marianne Postmodernism, 24, 25, 27, 35 Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 25 See also Jameson, Fredric Post-postmodern, 26, 27, 35 Post-redress, 83, 84, 104, 108, 110 Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 26, 100, 102, 133 The Practice of Everyday Life, 119 Prescient, 66, 92, 180 Presentist, 5, 54, 115 President Gore and Other Things that Never Happened, 156 Q Quinn, Jeanne Follansbee, 2 R Racism, 9, 108, 118, 145, 172, 175, 177, 189, 190 Randall, Martin, 123 Reagan, Ronald, 130 Realism, 10, 162 Realistic, 8, 54, 55, 74, 75n3, 154, 166 Redemption, 14, 119–127, 142, 143, 145 Redress Movement, 28, 36, 38, 55, 82 Reflecting Absence, 168 See also 9/11 memorial Reflective nostalgia, 14, 117, 126, 128, 136, 137, 147 Relativization, 156, 165, 166, 181 Relocation center, 81, 109, 110n1 See also Internment camp The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 2, 168 Reparations, 36, 38, 55, 56


Restorative nostalgia, 14, 117, 125, 126, 128, 129, 136, 147 Ridgey, Ann, 101 Robinson, Alan, 11, 30, 31, 44, 45, 86 Roosevelt, Franklin, 6, 11, 52, 53, 68, 69, 71, 81, 85, 90, 108 Roper, Jon, 134 Rosenberg, Emily, 12, 187, 188 Rosenfeld, Gavriel, 32, 34–37, 53, 62–65, 153–156, 162, 163 Roth books, 62, 76n6 Roth’s Lindbergh, 52, 64, 65, 67, 76n11 Roth, Philip, 6, 11, 12, 28–29, 33, 37, 39, 41, 44, 46, 51–74, 81, 115, 189, 190 Rothberg, Michael, 10, 11, 42–45, 175 Ruff, Matt, 14, 37, 154, 163–166, 171 Rushdie, Salman, 6, 24 S Said, Edward, 2 Sansei, 85, 94, 99–101, 104, 106, 107, 109, 110 Sato, Gayle K., 82, 83, 88, 104 Saturday, 155 Saunders, Max, 42 Savvas, Theophilus, 3, 4, 23, 25–27, 29, 31, 35 Schell, Jonathan, 128, 135 Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew, 34–36, 64 Schudson, Michael, 173 Schwartz, Lynne Sharon, 154, 155 Science fiction, 6, 32, 33, 35, 46n1, 84, 154, 156, 158, 159, 161, 166 Scott, Sir Walter, 25 “The Second Coming,” 21, 26, 125 Shalimar the Clown, 6 See also Rushdie, Salman


Sharing a Desert Home, 101, 109 See also Okimoto, Ruth Sheppard, Alfred, 5 Shostak, Debra, 54, 71, 72, 75n3 Silence, 82, 100–107, 109, 110 Simal-González, Begoña, 92, 110n1 Singer, Sandra, 123, 124, 143 Sinophobia, 189 Slave, 4, 9, 41, 43, 53, 59, 97, 136, 139, 142, 190 Smith, Henry Nash, 3 Spiegelman, Art, 2, 75n1 Steege, Paul, 57, 58, 69 “The Story Behind The Plot Against America,” 33, 53, 55, 65, 75n2 See also Roth, Philip The Submission beard, 168, 175 documentary, 182 hijab, 175, 176 Khan’s Garden, 168, 173, 175–177 Lin, Maya, 15, 43, 167, 177–181 memorial competition, 172–173, 176, 182 nexus event, 167 plausibility, 178 Save America from Islam (SAFI), 174 the Void, 167, 178 See also Waldman, Amy Suchet, Melanie, 140, 141 Surviving internee, 93, 101, 105, 109, 110 Svendsen, Lars, 56, 61 T Telling It like It Wasn’t, 34, 46n2 Terrorist, 2, 94, 127, 155, 171 Testimony, 10, 28, 29, 89, 90, 95, 109, 111n2 Third Reich, 63, 154 Thriller, 159, 161, 165



Tidhar, Lavie, 14, 154, 159–163, 166 To Reach the Clouds, 13, 121 Com’era, Doc’rea, 121 (see also Petit, Philippe) Transnational terrorism, 93, 94, 172 Trauma Culture, 2 Triumphalism, 36 Trump, Donald, 11, 12, 46, 53, 54, 59, 66, 67, 70, 74, 76n5, 189, 190 Twin Towers, 13, 37, 116, 119, 120, 123, 126, 149n7, 164 Tyrrell, Ian, 3, 4, 118 U Uchida, Yoshiko, 82, 101, 109, 111n8 Uncanny, 65, 89, 91, 115, 122, 127, 190 Universalization, 156, 159, 166, 181 “Unraveling Whiteness,” 140 See also Suchet, Melanie Updike, John, 2, 155 V Versluys, Kristiaan, 2, 155 Vietnam syndrome, 134 Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 167, 177–179 See also The Wall Vietnam War, 9, 11, 14, 15, 26, 40, 42, 43, 118, 126–135, 141, 146, 177, 178, 190 Vincent Chin, 107, 111n9 Virgin Land, 3, 125, 148n4 Virtual History, 34 W Waldman, Amy, 15, 37, 43, 154, 162, 166–174, 177, 179–182 The Walk, 13 See also To Reach the Clouds

The Wall, 178, 180 See also Vietnam Veterans Memorial War on Terror, 6, 9, 11, 13–15, 16n2, 37, 65, 87, 89, 92–95, 110, 115, 126, 133, 149n6, 161, 188 War Relocation Authority (WRA), 95 Washington, Booker T., 70 Washington, Martha, 70 Weedflower Colorado River Relocation Center, 95, 100 Mohave, 95, 97 repetition, 103 settler colonialism, 97 See also Kadohata, Cynthia “What Almost Was,” 34 See also Schneider-­ Mayerson, Matthew What is the What, 29 When the Emperor Was Divine confession, 89, 90 multiple perspective, 90 recurring dream, 103, 105 See also Otsuka, Julie White, Hayden, 30, 31 Whiteness, 59, 136, 140, 141, 145, 146, 172 White supremacist, 85, 125, 172, 175 White supremacy, 4, 9, 37, 59, 74, 76n5 “Who Are the War Agitators?,” 66 See also Lindbergh, Charles “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?,’”, 32 See also Rosenfeld, Gavriel Windows on the World, 155 The World Hitler Never Made, 34 See also Rosenfeld, Gavriel Worlding, 4, 15, 16n3, 154, 166, 169, 170, 177, 181 See also Cheah, Pheng World literature, 15, 154, 166, 169, 170, 181 See also Cheah, Pheng


World Trade Center, 116, 119, 120, 122, 126, 136, 147, 148, 154, 157, 175 World War II, 12, 45, 52, 63, 84, 92–96, 105–108, 115, 116, 163 World War III, 52, 85, 92, 108 The Writing on the Wall, 154–155

Y Yeats, William Butler, 26, 125 The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, 52 See also Chabon, Michael Yonsei, 109 Young, James E., 170

X Xenophobia, 65, 88, 189, 190

Z Zionist, 51