Michael Chabon is the author of two novels, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys, and of a previous collection of stories, A Model World. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and two children.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.
But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.
In 1948 with the collapse of Israel, the question of a Jewish State is temporarily resolved when Alaska becomes the homeland for the Diaspora Jews. However, the agreement is that this is not the Promised Land as the Alaskan Settlement Act authorized a sixty year lease. In two months, the Reversion occurs raising the question what to do about two million Alaskan Jews. --- Sitka police detective Meyer Landsman relies on alcohol to keep him from going over the edge. His marriage died alongside the abortion of their birth defected fetus while his sister died in a plane crash. His sleuthing skills no longer are keen as he does not care whether he solves a case or not. --- Shocking even himself, a murder in his dumpy Hotel Zamenhof awakens the once dedicated cop inside of Landsman as he goes for one last piece of glory knowing he will be unemployed once the reversion is implemented. The victim Emanuel Lasker was a harmless heroin addict who played chess no apparent motive surfaces as to why he was executed. Even more surprising is his former wife and suddenly current boss have reentered his life and he has been promoted the police chief for the final sixty days. Still Landsman allows nothing to intervene in his uncovering the identity of the culprit that is nothing except some hazy rumor that his sister was murdered instead of dying in an accident. --- This interesting alternate history police procedural frozen Noir provides a fascinating spin to the twentieth century issue of the Jewish homeland. The kvetching levels are stratospheric as fears of being abandoned again lead to the historical chosen mantra 'It's a strange time to be a Jew.' Landsman is an interesting character who finds redemption in the murder investigation. Though a conspiracy takes away from the prime theme of what if the Jews were placed elsewhere, readers will appreciate this innovative thriller. --- Harriet Klausner
I read all the reviews and sympathize with the person who said he/she may have been thrown off by all the "Yiddish stuff." I love all of Chabon's books--The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay is one of my all-time favorites--and I loved this book too but I can definitely see how someone not familiar with the Yiddish language and Jewish culture would get lost and lose patience. However, if you do know about Hasidic Jewish culture, the tension between secular and religious Jews, and if you know a bit of Yiddish, this book is hilarious and, of course, because it's Chabon, brilliantly written.
Mr. Chabon writes a masterpiece of a ¿what-if¿ portion of history. In this case, what if the Jews lost their War on Independence on 1948?
The solution was one proffered at that time, of region in Sitka Alaska for a 40 year term, after which there would be no more sanctuary.
In clear, lyric writing, Chabon brings out the historical facts and dress them with the ¿ghetto mentality¿ prevalent in European Jewry. No longer did the "New Jew" posses the Spartan-like Israeli warrior; instead, we still have the pacifistic minority who try to eke out a living. We see that self-determination is not even on the radar screen for this forlorn group.
This mystery is shrouded with ¿Jewish-isms¿ ¿ the cerebral approach; psychological turmoil; lust for life (over cover); some of the underground elements (which include some of the arcane elements of the red heifer paradox). It even characterizes the Chasidim, as the Other, as well as the fractious Jewish community.
I used this book in a book club with extraordinarily good results, particularly showing how the World War 2 generation coped to survive in a world hostile to Jews.
Imagine a land with Indians and Jews meshed together by Presidential decree, gangster Jews running around as card sharks and terrorists bent on resdiscovering the second Temple. Then through in a semi-rogue, rarely sober cop, living in a flea-bog hotel gets sucked in by the murder of a chess-obsessed heroin addict who is also supposed to be a messiah. Oh, and the cop's new boss, his ex-wife. This story for the ages runs through so many facets of history, ancient and otherwise, in an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read. Chabon is clearly a master storyteller with wit and intrigue to keep the story going. In this day of formulaic novels and give it to me now digital influences, this book is a welcome repreive and reminder of the power of the written word.
The review I read of this book made it sound intriguing. I read about half of the book, but finally I gave it up as I found the story hard to follow. I think someone conversant with the language that Jewish people use would really enjoy this story. Unfortunately, for me, it was just too difficult trying to discern what the words were saying. My son says that he loves books by Michael Chabon, and I feel that this has potential to be a fine story. I just was stalled by the language barrier.
This book is a very sharp parody/critique of Zionism. You don't need to be Jewish to really get this book (I'm not), but a good understanding of Judaism or Zionism would be helpful. As the dustjacket states, this books is all sorts of stories in one (part mystery, part critique, part story about love and life). I love the way Chabon writes, and am looking forward to reading more of his work.