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The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)

by Michael Chabon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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10,163417672 (3.8)620
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. 41
    The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (ljbwell)
    ljbwell: Alternate history based in the US where WWII has had a different outcome.
  5. 20
    Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (kaipakartik)
    kaipakartik: Detective tales set in a fast deteriorating city
  6. 20
    The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: Noir mysteries exploring interesting hypothetical settings with ticking timers.
  7. 43
    The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (Pagemistress)
  8. 21
    Farthing by Jo Walton (BeckyJP)
  9. 32
    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.
  10. 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.
  11. 00
    Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Both deal with ethnic conflict and searching for identity.

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» See also 620 mentions

English (404)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (2)  Italian (2)  Catalan (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (417)
Showing 1-5 of 404 (next | show all)
This is the sort of book that only Chabon could have written. An exemplar of the Noir genre (probably the best of its class for the past several years) -- Sitka, Alaska is a dark place, inhabited by a plethora of morally gray characters and equally gray bureaucracy. Meyer Landsman is a man on the edge of life, struggling with alcoholism; emotionally dependent on being a police officer, but too emotionally broken to consistently be a good one.

Added to the mixture is a generous helping of Jewish culture, Yiddish language and a not entirely kind treatment of the relationship between spiritual beliefs and good deeds.

Much has been noted about how, although set in Alaska, _Union_ points a critical eye to the non-alternate history Jewish settlements in Israel, which, while true, is incidental to the greatness of the book.

One point of criticism: I am not sure how approachable this book would be to a non-Jewish reader. I was highly critical about the pre-existing amount of culture knowledge needed for _Oscar Wao_, and by comparison there is more foreign language and far more cultural and religious references in _Union_. ( )
  settingshadow | Aug 19, 2023 |
This would have been a lot easier to read if there was a good yiddish & hebrew online dictionary. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
Some of the most fun I've had a in a while was had while reading this book. The detective noir plot keeps pulling you along, although I got hooked on the characters and the fictional Alaskan Jewish district which you get to know so well. So much wry and dark humor, so much laugh-out-loud dialog, so much inner life...yes, these are the people who gave the world the Marx Brothers and Leonard Cohen. I can't wait to read more by Chabon. ( )
  grahzny | Jul 17, 2023 |
Rereading, 6/22/2013. (Has it been 6 years? Wow.) There's a moment where Landsman tries to speak American without an accent, and it made me think of my grandfather's new york jewish cadence, and in that moment I remembered that he's gone and so is much of his world.

I think I like it even more on reread, though I'm not sure it'll upset Kavalier and Clay as my favorite Chabon book. My yiddish vocabulary has grown, if only a little---I really appreciated all the plays and metaphors on "faygele," dancing lightly around the word itself but never saying it. I desperately want the dead man and Landsman's sister to survive; I have to remind myself again and again that their fates were known from the first pages, and I grieve them all over again.


I don't know how insightful and organized this review is going to be....

Finally finished this one off-- and I want to read it again! Sometimes the writing was a little pretentious (like the lists of objects, which you can tell Chabon likes to do), but it was always a great read. I loved the Yiddish words and invented slang; Sitka came alive for me, in its tired, ramshackle, and thoroughly Jewish way. Often, I was reading more for Sitka than the plot or any of the other characters.

The plot towards the end began to remind me of Neal Stephenson in its conspiracy-filled unlikeliness, but it was still interesting. ( )
  caedocyon | May 8, 2023 |
Notă: nu am terminat cartea, ci am citit doar 100 pag din vreo 400 și ceva. Asta pentru că, în afară de crima din pag.1, în următoarele 100 nu s-a mai întâmplat absolut nimic, în afară de introducerea la nesfârșit de personaje neinteresante. Asta ar fi prima mare problemă și, deși am avut multă bunăvoință, nu m-am putut forța mai mult de atât.
A doua, uriașă, este stilul de scriere al lui Chabon, exagerat de încărcat și ridicol: autorul e ferm hotărât să folosească absolut toate adjectivele și adverbele din dicționar și să mai inventeze câteva, iar dacă în Guiness Book există un record pentru comparații și unul pentru comparații uluitor de proaste, Chabon le triplu-bate pe amândouă. Cîteva exemple: ”Blocurile-turn (...) îngrămădite în beznă ca niște prizonieri strânși laolaltă ca vitele, cu ajutorul unui furtun de mare putere” - wow, o comparație la comparație, când și una e prea mult în ziua de azi, nu mai suntem la 1800; ”ambii micuți dorm acolo, depozitați pe balcon ca niște schiuri nefolosite” - what?!; ”Brennan își ridică degetele albe, asemenea unor larve, și clipește din ochișorii de un albastru pal, ca al laptelui acrit” - clasa a 3a much?!. Oribil și de tot râsul, cel mai prost stil scriitoricesc citit de mine de ani de zile.
A treia: șabloanele, Dumnezeule! Chiar e obligatoriu ca noir-urile să fie identice? Personajul principal e un detectiv ratat (checked), bețiv (checked), divorțat (checked), care își plânge de milă (checked), scârbit de tot (checked) și se comportă cu sictir (checked), trăiește într-un hotel decrepit printre ratați rău-famați (checked) and so on. Come on!!!
A patra: carte nu prea are fapte, dar este o înșiruire infinită nu doar de comparații, ci și de detalii. Nenumărate, irelevante, obositoare.
A cincea: încărcătura prea mare de termeni idiș și de referințe la lumea evreiască: eu sunt pasionat de Israel, motiv din care le știu foarte bine istoria, cultura și nițel limba (ivrit, ce-i drept, nu idiș), dar tot mi s-au părut că îngreunează foarte tare lectura.
A șasea e doar personală: în afară de fundalul vag distopic, nu e deloc SF, ci o carte 100% polițistă. Iar mie nu-mi plac deloc romanele polițiste, mă plictisesc de moarte și fără să fie atât de prost scrise. Cartea ar fi trebuit scoasă de Paladin în colecția lor de noir, acolo îi este locul, nu în cea de SF.
Sincer, de mult nu m-a mai plictisit așa tare o carte, iar de enervat chiar de și mai mult.
A, și coperta e una dintre cele mai urâte de mulți ani, dar nu e vina Paladin, e coperta folosită la majoritatea edițiilor. Ce hâdoșenie infantilă!
Concluzie: o mare decepție, o așteptam de mult...
PS: am descoperit online cum se continuă povestea. Mă bucur că am abandonat la timp, urăsc Dan Brown-ismele.
SF? Deloc. ( )
  milosdumbraci | May 5, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 404 (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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