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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 (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,404399600 (3.8)582
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.
Member:AddoStew
Title:The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Michael Chabon (Author)
Info:Harper Perennial (2008), Edition: Reprint, 464 pages
Collections:Your library
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The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

  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 Plot Against America by Philip Roth (ljbwell)
    ljbwell: Alternate history based in the US where WWII has had a different outcome.
  7. 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.
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    Farthing by Jo Walton (BeckyJP)
  9. 43
    The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (Pagemistress)
  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 582 mentions

English (387)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (399)
Showing 1-5 of 387 (next | show all)
A basic question presented itself to me when I went to rate and review this book, are my ratings an indication of the quality of the book or are they my personal feeling about the book? It is is the former then this is a 4 star book. I love Michael Chabon and have especially enjoyed some of his more recent books (TELEGRAPH AVENUE and MOONGLOW) and this book is an intricate, well written book that has large themes and ideas. If it is the latter however, and that is where I have decided to put it, then I give it 3 stars because I just never felt like I got into this or enjoyed it. At the core I think I may not have the requisite knowledge and feeling for the culture depicted. I had a lot of trouble with some of the words used although I could often figure out a decent definition based on context. It was not until I finished that I saw there was a Glossary at the end of the book. Even with that I'm not sure I would have felt the emotional connection to these characters that I have to those is his other books. Please don't take my 3 star review as a negative about the quality of the book, I may actually be rating myself here. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
I still did not enjoy this re-read of Michael Chabon's “The Yiddish Policemen's Union”. This time around the only redeeming feature was still the clever premise which I had forgotten by now. But that's about it.

In the early 1900s, the Zionist Movement did consider a British colonial proposal to make parts of British East Africa (in today's Uganda and Kenya) a Jewish settlement. The Nazi leaders did consider a plan to deport European Jews to Madagascar. Odd as those locations now seem, used as we are to what did actually happen (oh, let's not get into the reality of the reality here), I really applauded Mr. Chabon's inspired, witty leap of thought in making Alaska the location for a Jewish homeland. Not long after reading that book, I happened to read Victor Klemperer's incomparable diaries. Jewish by birth; a converted Christian for marriage; in practice an atheist (if memory serves), Mr. Klemperer's diaries are a rare, searing, intelligently pedantic contemporaneous account of daily life in Nazi Germany.

To my surprise, among the whispered rumours he recorded in passing was the rumour that Jews would be deported to Alaska.

Incidentally, I am getting used to the fact that a lot of people are eroding the distinction between "alternate" and "alternative" and don't get heat up about it anymore (although I do regret it); even Garner's Modern American Usage (2009) states "Alternate is often misused for alternative", rating it "3" the book's "language change index" (scale 1 to 5), which is glossed as "Widespread but ...". In other words it is not considered really acceptable in careful style even on that side of the Atlantic. ( )
  antao | Jun 5, 2021 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 387 (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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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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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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