The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Jess WalterThey are the "frozen Chosen," two million people living, dying and kvetching in Sitka, Alaska, the temporary homeland established for displaced World War II Jews in Chabon's ambitious and entertaining new novel. It is—deep breath now—a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller, so perhaps it's no surprise that, in the back half of the book, the moving parts become unwieldy; Chabon is juggling narrative chainsaws here.The novel begins—the same way that Philip Roth launched The Plot Against America—with a fascinating historical footnote: what if, as Franklin Roosevelt proposed on the eve of World War II, a temporary Jewish settlement had been established on the Alaska panhandle? Roosevelt's plan went nowhere, but Chabon runs the idea into the present, back-loading his tale with a haunting history. Israel failed to get a foothold in the Middle East, and since the Sitka solution was only temporary, Alaskan Jews are about to lose their cold homeland. The book's timeless refrain: "It's a strange time to be a Jew."Into this world arrives Chabon's Chandler-ready hero, Meyer Landsman, a drunken rogue cop who wakes in a flophouse to find that one of his neighbors has been murdered. With his half-Tlingit, half-Jewish partner and his sexy-tough boss, who happens also to be his ex-wife, Landsman investigates a fascinating underworld of Orthodox black-hat gangs and crime-lord rabbis. Chabon's "Alyeska" is an act of fearless imagination, more evidence of the soaring talent of his previous genre-blender, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.Eventually, however, Chabon's homage to noir feels heavy-handed, with too many scenes of snappy tough-guy banter and too much of the kind of elaborate thriller plotting that requires long explanations and offscreen conspiracies.Chabon can certainly write noir—or whatever else he wants; his recent Sherlock Holmes novel, The Final Solution, was lovely, even if the New York Times Book Review sniffed its surprise that the mystery novel would "appeal to the real writer." Should any other snobs mistake Chabon for anything less than a real writer, this book offers new evidence of his peerless storytelling and style. Characters have skin "as pale as a page of commentary" and rough voices "like an onion rolling in a bucket." It's a solid performance that would have been even better with a little more Yiddish and a little less police. (May)Jess Walter was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and the winner of the 2006 Edgar Award for best novel for Citizen Vince.
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*Starred Review* Like Haruki Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991), Chabon plays with the conventions of the Chandlerian private-eye novel, but that's only one ingredient in an epic-scale alternate-history saga of Jewish life since World War II. The premise draws on an obscure historical fact: FDR once proposed that Alaska, not Israel, become the homeland for Jews after the war. In Chabon's telling, that's exactly what happened, except, inevitably, it hasn't gone as planned: the U.S. government now has enacted a policy that will evict all Jews without proper papers from Sitka, the center of Jewish Alaska. In the midst of this nightmare, browbeaten police detective Meyer Landsman investigates the murder of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy who happens to be the disgraced son of Sitka's most powerful rabbi. No one wants this case solved, from Landsman's boss (his ex-wife, Bina) to the FBI, but our Yiddish Marlowe keeps digging, uncovering apocalypse in the making. Chabon manipulates his bulging plot masterfully, but what makes the novel soar is its humor and humanity. Even without grasping all the Yiddish wordplay that seasons the delectable prose, readers will fall headlong into the alternate universe of Chabon's Sitka, where black humor is a kind of antifreeze necessary to support life. And when Meyer, in the end, must "weigh the fates of the Jews, of the Arabs, of the whole unblessed and homeless planet" against a promise made to a grieving mother, it's clear that this parallel world smells a lot like home. Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ran the book-award table in 2000, and this one just may be its equal. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
The strength of this novel definitely lies in its setting, which presents to the reader an alternate version of the events that have followed the end of WWII. This very original setting is presented in the course of a police investigation on what at first appears to be a casual case of a murder of a drug addict. The novel also introduces vocabulary that is unique to Sitka Jews, which contributes to the reader's immersion in this unique setting although it does take time to get familiar with it. Although I am quite enthusiastic about the setting of the novel, I can't say that the story itself blew me away. You will find in this story many common stereotypes for police investigators. With all the praises from critics this novel is showing on its cover, I must admit I expected more story-wise.
The story itself is a detective story, and the hero is Meyer Landsman, a homicide detective, who is investigating the murder of an unknown man (initially) who was known as a chess player. Landsman's partner is half-Tlingit (Alaskan native) half-Jewish man named Berko Shemets. Landsman's ex-wife (Bino) is promoted to be his commanding officer, and the interesting character list goes on and on from there. Chabon creates wonderful characters that are not just two-dimensional figures and each is a distinctive character to the reader. In addition, the entire world is textured and contributes greatly to pulling the reader into the world he has created.
This book received a number of awards, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best SF Novel, and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History for Best Novel. It was also considered for the British Science Fiction Association and the Edgar Allan Poe Awards for Best Novel.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
If you enjoy reading a book with fanciful turns of phrase rather than point blank, direct text, then you'll enjoy reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union yet I was left feeling that... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Helena Savolainen
I had high hopes for this book as Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my favourite novels of all time. Read morePublished on Aug. 23 2013 by Aggie G
said the words out loud those who had assumed Yiddish was a language of the past only, suddenly felt it had been revived. . . . Read morePublished on March 30 2011 by Lonya
I heard a lot about this work and about Micheal Chabon, but I honestly didn't know what to think. On a lark, I decided to give this book a shot and bought it. Read morePublished on June 16 2009 by T. Hore
The story revolves around the idea that part of Alaska has been ceded to the dispossessed Jews after WWII on the stipulation that during the next sixty years they have to find a... Read morePublished on Oct. 3 2008 by Toni Osborne
For me, reading this was something like reading a book by Roth (any of his) and something by Chandler (think, his mysteries). Read morePublished on July 11 2007 by C.W.