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The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel…
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The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel (P.S.) (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Michael Chabon

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8,541369567 (3.8)552
Member:AmCorKragujevac
Title:The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Michael Chabon
Info:Harper Perennial (2008), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library
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Work details

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

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    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Pagemistress)
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    kaipakartik: Both are detective tales in alternate settings
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    AlanPoulter: Both are alternate histories set in a USA changed by World War Two.
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    The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (melmore)
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    Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (kaipakartik)
    kaipakartik: Detective tales set in a fast deteriorating city
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» See also 552 mentions

English (358)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (369)
Showing 1-5 of 358 (next | show all)
What if the messiah comes, but he doesn’t want to stick around? This question underlies a completely engrossing, brilliantly told detective noir story set in an alternative reality Jewish homeland in Alaska. As a detective story, it’s well done, with a mystery that leads to numerous other crimes and conspiracies, all of which seem plausible in the context of a corrupted, criminal underworld at the edge of the world and the end of time.
The situation is a murder in a Jewish homeland imposed on a piece of the world that no-one wants except the Tlingit people living there (a nice parallel for the State of Israel in Palestine). The setting, with its ever-present fog, rain, snow and cold, hemmed in by forests and water, has the same foreboding character that Raymond Chandler would call up if his Los Angeles were 1,500 miles farther north. Also like Chandler, Chabon uses a colourful, hard-boiled style to evoke a tough, cynical and bleak view of the world. His language brings in yiddish slang and similes that fit naturally in the world he has created. It doesn’t feel like a forced pastiche of Chandler to find out that a sholem is slang for a gun (or “peacemaker” in western American slang); or that a latke is a street cop (or “flatfoot”). An artful homage, I would say.
Another departure from Chandler, or at least the Chandler novels I’ve read, is that the past of the protagonist Landsman is not hidden. It is revealed slowly, but Chabon does explain how he came to his bleak outlook and self-destructive life. And while the story centres on male protagonists, the women in the story are strong capable individuals who contribute to the plot and the characters. Ultimately, Landsman finds that salvation is not in the messiah, but in his relationship to the woman he loves.
The messiah figure is an interesting one, too. He has a genuine gift for bringing contentment into people’s lives, but he can’t bring the same satisfaction into his own life. The contradictions with his ultra-orthodox sect make him miserable and he wants out. His mother wants to protect him, but he flees before she can help him, if that’s even possible in her world. A self-sacrificing messiah this is not, which makes an interesting reflection on the Christian messiah.
From the start, though, I wondered what the title referred to, and about page 230, we find that the Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a fake: after losing his badge, Landsman uses a union card to pretend to be an active policeman. So I take it that the Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a cover for looking at something else. What Michael Chabon is really looking at seems to be a multi-layered view of Jewish-American and Israeli politics, society and personal relations.
A key theme in the novel is the expiration of the lease on the Jewish homeland in Alaska, which the Americans won’t renew it, leaving the few million Jewish settlers either searching for a new homeland or in a suspended animation – the existential challenge of Israel and the renewed diaspora of unwelcome Jewish people.
To resolve the challenge, a group of Zionists finds a messiah and concocts a scheme to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem and return to Israel. Their willingness to stop at nothing, including genocide, and with the probably ignorant support of wealthy American Jewish sponsors, leads to a scheme that would stir the imagination of anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. Chabon keeps the story from descending to such fantasies, mainly by making the imagined setting so much a part of the novel that the storyline cannot be separated from the city of Sitka and its seedy inhabitants. That and the fundamentalist Christian allies who back the plot.
Chabon uses the noir genre conventions to explore literature and society in complex ways, as Chabon’s Cavalier and Clay used comic book conventions to explore twentieth century Jewish life. I like the chess theme, for example, which returns frequently to provide clues to the mystery story, is also a reflection on order and disorder in society, father-son relationships and the ultimate puzzle of life, what to do when you have no good moves. This is a literary novel that is entertaining and a great read. ( )
  rab1953 | Jan 29, 2019 |
Interesting starting idea, but gets really boring very fast. And way too much Yiddish words in the text actually makes it hard to read. Could not finish this one. ( )
  Guide2 | Jan 9, 2019 |
In Yiddish-speaking Alaska, Orthodox gangs in side-curls and knee breeches roam the streets of Sitka, where Detective Meyer Landsman discovers the corpse of a heroin-addled chess prodigy in the flophouse Meyer calls home. Marionette strings stretch back to the hands of charismatic Rebbe Gold, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its mission statement from the Cosa Nostra. Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder.

It took me about halfway through the book to really get interested in the story and start liking Detective Landsman, his humor and his loose cannon approach to investigating. There were a lot of characters with Yiddish names and a lot of Yiddish words used throughout which was a bit challenging. The plot was complex with many Jewish beliefs an important part to some of the Jewish characters and not important to others. The alternate history was different, had a noir feel and I enjoyed it. ( )
  gaylebutz | Sep 6, 2018 |
The Yiddish Policemen's Union is an alternate-history novel in which the Jewish people have been removed from Israel and relocated to a small portion of Alaska on a temporary lease. The story revolves around a police detective, Landsman, and his dogged determination in unraveling his latest murder case, despite the fact that it's no more important than any of the other unsolved murder cases in his file, he's officially been told to drop the case, and he keeps ending up in harm's way for annoying the wrong people. Of course, the case ends up being related to an international conspiracy. What's remarkable about the book is the atmosphere--the entire Jewish district seems like kind of a slum, complete with Rabbi leaders that are no better than mob bosses, which is added to the looming inevitability of the Americans taking over when the lease is up in several months. The characters themselves are mostly abrasive and irrational--I found it very difficult to identify or sympathize with them at all. While the murder case is resolved by the end, the reader never gets the sense that the overwhelming glumness of the world will ever cease. This one was a bit too depressing for me. ( )
  Phrim | Jun 14, 2018 |
Loved Kavalier and Clay. Never really got into this one. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 358 (next | show all)
Chabon is a spectacular writer. He does a witty turn reinventing Yiddish for the modern Alaskan Jews - of course the lingua franca of Jews without an Israel - just a little of which I, with only faintly remembered childhood Yiddish, could grasp. A mobile phone is a shoyfer (perhaps because, like the ram's horn, it calls you), a gun is a sholem (a Yiddish version of a Peacemaker?). Chabon is a language magician, turning everything into something else just for the delight of playing tricks with words. He takes the wry, underbelly vision of the ordinary that the best of noir fiction offers and ratchets it up to the limit. Nothing is allowed to be itself; all people and events are observed as an echo of something else. Voices are like "an onion rolling in a bucket", or rusty forks falling. An approaching motorcycle is "a heavy wrench clanging against a cold cement floor. The flatulence of a burst balloon streaking across the living room and knocking over a lamp." Chabon's ornate prose makes Chandler's fruity observations of the world look quite plain. Nothing is described as just the way it is. Nothing is let be. He writes like a dream and has you laughing out loud, applauding the fun he has with language and the way he takes the task of a writer and runs delighted rings around it.

For the most part, Chabon's writing serves the knotted mystery that is being unravelled, but there is eventually a point where it begins to weary the mind, where the elaborations of things get in the way of the things themselves and the narrative gets sucked under by style. The compulsory paragraph of Byzantine physical description whenever another character arrives on the scene starts to seem an irritating interlude; another over-reaching cadenza. Though it seems churlish to complain about such a vivid talent, a little less would have been enough already.
 
It’s obvious that the creation of this strange, vibrant, unreal world is Chabon’s idea of heaven. He seems happy here, almost giddy, high on the imaginative freedom that has always been the most cherished value in his fiction.
 
Some of the pleasures of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are, actually, distinctly Dan Brown–ish. Mr. Chabon often ends chapters with cliffhangers that might be tiresome in the hands of a lesser writer (say, Dan Brown). Here, they’re over-the-top suspenseful, savory and delicious.
 
More important, Mr. Chabon has so thoroughly conjured the fictional world of Sitka — its history, culture, geography, its incestuous and byzantine political and sectarian divisions — that the reader comes to take its existence for granted. By the end of the book, we feel we know this chilly piece of northern real estate, where Yiddish is the language of choice, the same way we feel we have come to know Meyer Landsman — this “secular policeman” who has learned to sail “double-hulled against tragedy,” ever wary of “the hairline fissures, the little freaks of torque” that can topple a boat in the shallows.
 
This novel makes you think, but it is an ordeal to read. The problem: Chabon has mixed two very dark story lines that jar the reader. There is the real tragedy of Sitka's wandering Jews, and then there is the faux bleakness of the noir genre with its posturing attitude. The central character comes across as a Jewish Humphrey Bogart wannabe, not a three-dimensional character who can shoulder a 400-plus-page novel about exile, fanatics and longing.
added by MikeBriggs | editUSA Today, Deirdre Donahue (Apr 30, 2007)
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Chabonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carlson-Stanisic, LeahDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fischer, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riegert, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"And they went to sea in a sieve."
- Edward Lear
Dedication
To Ayelet, bashert
First words
Nine months Landsman's been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.
Quotations
He likes the leash ... Without it, he doesn't sleep.
It has nothing to do with religion ... It has everything to do, God damn it, with fathers.
A Messiah who actually arrives is no good to anybody.
I don't care what is written. I don't care what supposedly got promised to some sandal-wearing idiot whose claim to fame is that he was ready to cut his own son's throat for the sake of a hare-brained idea. I don't care about red heifers and patriarchs and locusts. A bunch of old bone in the sand. My homeland is in my hat. It's in my ex-wife's tote bag.
God damn them all. I always knew they were there. Down there in Washington. Up there ever our heads. Holding the strings. Setting the agenda. Of course I knew that. We all knew that. We all grew up knowing that, right? We are here on sufferance. Houseguests. But they ignored us for so long. Left us to our own devices. It was easy to kid yourself. Make you think you had a little autonomy, in a small way, nothing fancy. I thought I was working for everyone. You know. Serving the public. Upholding the law. But really I was just working for Cashdollar.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
The novel is a detective story set in an alternate history version of the present day, based on the premise that during World War II, a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees was established in Sitka, Alaska in 1941, and that the fledgling State of Israel was destroyed in 1948.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007149832, Paperback)

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 the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.

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. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:05 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

In a world in which Alaska, rather than Israel, has become the homeland for the Jews following World War II, Detective Meyer Landsman and his half-Tlingit partner Berko investigate the death of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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