Inventing (Post)Memory, Writing (Non)Fiction: Jerzy Kosinski, Philip Roth and the Legacy of World War II

Paolo Simonetti


In this essay, I argue that Marianne Hirsch’s definition of postmemory might be extended to hybrid forms of autobiographical writing such as the fraudulent survivor’s autobiography and the counterfactual or uchronic memoir. To that effect, the essay deals with Jerzy Kosinski’s controversial first novel The Painted Bird (1965) and Philip Roth’s uchronia The Plot Against America (2004) as peculiar types of postmemorial works. Though both writers experienced the war during their childhood and their texts were written at a great remove from the war-period, these works can be considered World War II novels since they register and represent the war as a central, traumatic event. Kosinski’s and Roth’s recollections of the wartime period in their novels are so distorted, manipulated, and fictionally imagined (if not utterly invented) that they share the same “oscillation between continuity and rupture” typical of the postmemorial narratives described by Hirsch.

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