Seldom will you have an opportunity to read a book that offers so much fine writing, imaginative fancy dropped in lightly to expand your mind, wit, and examples of how we are our own worst enemy by assuming we know what's going on rather than getting the facts. If you are Jewish and know Yiddish, you'll have the extra benefit of many good-humored, self-directed jokes: In places, you'll think you've stepped into a Neil Simon comedy. And there are lots of nods to fine literature throughout the book to keep the serious reader entertained.
To give this book a conventional book review does Mr. Chabon a disservice. How can I best summarize The Yiddish Policemen's Union? Expect the wildly unexpected.
Most novels try to fit tightly into a genre. By following certain conventions, readers have an easier time following what's going on and are soon basking in reflected pleasure from other books they've read in the genre. If you mash together genres instead as Mr. Chabon has done, the results can be chaotic, humorous, and revealing about the flaws in the genres. This book combines so many genres that you'll probably find yourself losing track of how many are referenced in one place or other.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union isn't one of those books that you should read quickly. You should savor each conversational exchange, each scene, and each historical, social, cultural or biblical reference as you might savor a fine wine. Sip slowly, stop, and experience as many flavors as you can.
I have two warnings however.
If you are looking for a book that's exactly like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, you've been misinformed. The same author is involved, but the two books are quite different.
If you think you are going to read a conventional murder mystery-police procedural, you've set your sights in the wrong direction. Yes, there are crimes, investigations, and mysteries, but they aren't the heart of the book's appeal. If you apply only that lens, you'll probably complain that the second half of the book doesn't work very well. Putting together all those genres means that the murder mystery-police procedural aspect cannot proceed as smoothly as you are accustomed to experiencing.
To me, the book's greatest feature is the variety of ways that Mr. Chabon communicates his ultimate message that redemption is available for us all . . . if we simply get busy and seek redemption.
Enjoy a great read!