History or Story?

To some historians, the simple and innocent wording of the expression “Alternate History” is a symptom of heretic behavior. Otherwise, to some others is just a refreshing point of view from which formulate new theories about long solved riddles. To most, finally, is simply literature. But with a morbid aspect to add: the always attractive possibility of changing historical facts and face a new line of development for mankind. It has its pros and cons…
Lately, it has also been called counterfactual history; the reason for this is the use of academical research techniques and methodology implemented in the development of the narrative to establish the foundations of what is called a “what if…” and the need for a counterfact, a plausible one indeed, as a groundwork for the story. But in spite of it, this kind of historical narrative is still deemed as mere literature, and for all that, Alternate History is usually considered, in fact, a subgenre of science fiction. So, are we going to talk about future history? Not for sure. More and more often, Alternate History is becoming a matter of history in the sense of great historical moments altered and the transformations that brings in the historical line. WWII, The American Civil War, the discovering of America, are some of the main themes that Alternate History is engaged with lately. But we are bound to focus in a particular line of work: Twentieth Century Jewish History.
To do so, we will have the collaboration of two Pulitzer Award winners: Phillip Roth and Michael Chabon, authors of both pieces in which History is altered around events related with WWII and the Jewish People. There, every resemblance is finished. Roth uses a way forward and back for his story, taking a starting point before the war and tracing a circle till everything gets again more or less in line with te real course of events. Chabon, on the other hand, moves his story to almost present time but the founding of it lies in post WWII events in Palestine, thus creating an uncanny situation. In both cases, though, they put the accent in the frailty of the Jewish position in the WWII period, and how it could have turned to any direction with a little push; not, for once, that we are living the Holocaust. That is somewhat a Classic, and this is Alternate History. So the point we (and both the writers) are searching for is different.
While Roth’s story is centered in the lives of American Jewish, and how those could have been terribly (in more than one sense) modified in the event of some deep political changes in the USA, showing a disturbing reshifting of the whole WWII age, Chabon’s detective’s story goes beyond and shows us the repercussions of a complete turn of events in Middle East shortly after the war in the world we are living now, with implications in the never-ending conflict between Jews and Palestinians. Both, anyway, present Jewish People as victims of aggression, but meanwhile Roth reflects the not so friendly soul of America to immigrants in general, and Jews in particular, Chabon shows inner tensions and a general feeling of frustration inside the Chosen People.
Nothing is true, of course, just a piece of imagination, and even if the situation as described by Roth is probably more plausible than that of Chabon, what is useful for the historian is to consider the implications of these alterations and how they can be used to examine actual events from a fresh point of view that, maybe, could bring new light to the winding roads of historical research.


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