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The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)

by Michael Chabon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,336397592 (3.8)579
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-addled chess prodigy.
  1. 151
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Pagemistress)
  2. 102
    The City & The City by China Miéville (grizzly.anderson, kaipakartik)
    grizzly.anderson: Both are police procedural mysteries set in slightly alternate worlds.
    kaipakartik: Both are detective tales in alternate settings
  3. 51
    The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both are alternate histories set in a USA changed by World War Two.
  4. 20
    Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (kaipakartik)
    kaipakartik: Detective tales set in a fast deteriorating city
  5. 20
    The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: Noir mysteries exploring interesting hypothetical settings with ticking timers.
  6. 31
    The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (melmore)
    melmore: Another book with a detective protagonist attempting to come to terms with his life and his relationships.
  7. 31
    The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (ljbwell)
    ljbwell: Alternate history based in the US where WWII has had a different outcome.
  8. 42
    The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (Pagemistress)
  9. 21
    Farthing by Jo Walton (BeckyJP)
  10. 00
    Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Both deal with ethnic conflict and searching for identity.
  11. 00
    The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (hairball)
    hairball: While one is an alternative history and the other is based around historical fact (Argentina's disappeared), they have a similar flavor to them.

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» See also 579 mentions

English (385)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (397)
Showing 1-5 of 385 (next | show all)
I wish I had saved this book to read in a hot summer day by the lake.

This is not a book to take seriously, but a fun, light book to dive in and enjoy. Chabon’s virtual world of the “frozen chosen” has a cartoon like quality, and I believe should be read with the same lightness we approach an old version of the Looney Tunes or yet The Simpsons.

The language did tire me a bit – English is my second language and I wonder if this added to my difficulty – but I loved the little snippets of information of this alternative reality, little gems like: Marilynn Monroe Kennedy, a Cuban/American War, the Russian Third Republic (what could this be??!!). Chabon’s world is not as detailed as J.K Rowling’s but this idea of a Jewish settlement in Alaska did remind me of Hogwarts in some level. Of course, this is not some epiphany of mine, as The Yiddish Policemen's Union was awarded the Nebula Prize for Fiction in 2007. Yet, I would not call it fantasy per se. It is foremost a noir mystery.

But I don’t think it is a book to overanalyze, and I already said too much, so I will stop my comments here.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Probably my favourite book of all the fiction I read that year.

I enjoy a good film noir detective story and this starts out just like so many of the best: our protagonist (Is he a hero? He's the best we'll get) wakes hung-over and miserable in his room at the fleapit hotel, to find his neighbour is dead and now that's his problem to solve. So much, so Sam Spade. But now we find this West Coast isn't LA, it's Alaska - or rather the Federal District of Sitka, in an alternate timeline where this became a Jewish homeland and refuge from Europe. This isn't the Promised Land, it's the Land Grudgingly Loaned and now Uncle Sam wants it back.

It's the observed details that make this. Hebrew is a oddity kept for shul and the language of the streets is Yiddish, His partner is one of the few gentiles in town, being from the First Nations. And when there's no food, at least there's chess. Chabon never makes do with one word when he can fit a dozen in there. As much a mensch as his bedraggled and trampled hero.

I loved this. Unusually for fiction I'll probably read it again. ( )
  Andy_Dingley | Mar 3, 2021 |
In Chabon's alternate history, the Jewish country of Israel doesn't exist, and Jewish refugees escaping from the Holocaust are granted the safety and autonomy of a strip of Alaska. Now 60 years later, the Jewish land of Sitka is about to revert back to the United States. That's the background against which a Jewish policeman, living in a fleabag hotel, ends up investigating the murder of another tenant of the hotel.

Still reeling from his divorce a couple of years earlier the more recent death of his sister, and faced with an uncertain future after the reversion, Meyer Landsman is a mess, but he's a good detective, determined to find the killer, even if it means disobeying a direct order from his newly promoted ex-wife who is now his boss.

In prose full of metaphors and similies, Chabon takes Meyer and the reader into the part of Sitka where the Black Hats -- ultra Orthodox Jews -- live and oversee life in the district. The simple murder of a former chess prodigy/current drug addict is anything but simple. This is a fascinating look at what could have been, as well as a compelling story about a murder, grief, and a community determined to keep surviving all the obstacles put in their way. ( )
  ShellyS | Feb 5, 2021 |
I've had a hardback copy of this book on my shelf for some time, but kept shying away from it. What a mistake.

Part detective story, part alternative history, part romance, part discussion of religious dogma, this enchanting book held my attention like the best suspenseful mystery, so that I read it almost in one sitting. What would have happened if Israel had never taken hold in 1948? What would happen if you gave a whole people a 20 year lease on which to lick their wounds? And what would happen when one kind of hope collides with another? Some of the Jews in the borrowed land of Alaska want to try to win back Palestine, some want to stay, some are fearful of eviction, again, as has happened for millenia. And in the midst of this, a chess wizard is found dead in a seedy hotel, in which a guilt-ridden police detective spends his non-working hours drinking his sorrows. The classic Chandler-esque noir plot melds perfectly with the deeper discussions to produce a book that is very hard to put down. ( )
1 vote ffortsa | Jan 7, 2021 |
Kind of a neat twist on gumshoe fiction. I didn't love it, but I liked it. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 385 (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 (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chabon, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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"And they went to sea in a sieve."
- Edward Lear
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.
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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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-addled chess prodigy.

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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.
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