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5 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (P.S.)

by

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (P.S.) Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. Why does Meyer Landsman feel a special kinship with the murder victim in Rm. 208 of the Hotel Zamenhof, and how is that affinity responsible for his career's decline?

2. To what extent is Bina Gelbfish sympathetic to Meyer's professional situation? How does their current involvement as police department colleagues reflect the complicated nature of their history with one another?

3. Why does the prospect of Reversion compromise Meyer and Berko's ability to solve their outstanding cases, and what does that possibility mean to both of them?

4. How would you characterize the nature of the interaction of native peoples and Jewish immigrants in Sitka, Alaska, and its environs?

5. How surprising is the coincidence of the deaths of Naomi Landsman and Mendel Shpilman, given the small-world sense of "Jewish geography" in Sitka and the Alaskan panhandle?

6. Why does Willy Dick agree to help Meyer and Berko in their efforts to uncover the truth behind the Peril Strait, and what does his doing so reveal about his allegiances?

7. How does the author explore variations on the theme of fathers and sons in the relationships between Meyer and his father, Meyer and Django, Berko and Hertz, and Mendel and Rebbe Shpilman in this novel?

8. How does the author's use of copious historical facts throughout the novel impact your reading of The Yiddish Policemen's Union as a work of fiction? To what extent does the Jewish settlement in Sitka, Alaska, seem like an actual community?

9. Why do Meyer, Berko, and Bina agree to suppress their knowledge of a vast conspiracy, and what does that decision reveal about their own sense of the balance between justice and self-preservation?

10. Of the many eccentric and unforgettable characters in The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which were the most memorable to you, and why?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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gerald eddy, August 25, 2012 (view all comments by gerald eddy)
I love Kavalier and Clay...and was familiar with Chabon from a comicbook lovers perspective. When I heard about a noir novel set in an alternative universe had been written by him I had to read it and loved every page of it. The hero is an everyman with the type of problems an everyman has...but a hero he is in this weird alaskan yiddish who dunnit. The setting might have happened...the Alaskan yiddish is inventive, and the dark humor is endearing.
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librarinan, August 22, 2012 (view all comments by librarinan)
I read it years ago. Unlike many books, I still remember it. It was clever and well-written. I may read it again!
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(0 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
greeners3, August 8, 2012 (view all comments by greeners3)
An incredible read! In 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union,' Michael Chabon has created a realistic alternate universe, a riveting detective novel, a thought-provoking examination of American-Israeli relations, and - strangely - a poignant love story.

By far, this is the best novel I've read in the last two years!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780007149834
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Chabon, Michael
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Mystery fiction
Subject:
Murder -- Investigation.
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series:
P.S.
Publication Date:
20080429
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
7.92x5.34x1.17 in. .75 lbs.

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The Yiddish Policemen's Union (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 464 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780007149834 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

After winning the Pulitzer Prize for his groundbreaking The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon returns for another literary tour de force. In a "what-if" story for adults, Chabon imagines that Alaska was turned into a Jewish state after World War II. Combining speculative and detective fiction with his own distinctive literary stylings, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is an unforgettable novel.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "[Signature] Reviewed by Jess Walter They 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. 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "There's no doubting the entertainment on offer here; but I could not help feeling tantalized, as I was zoomed along the hairpin plot, by glimpses of more lastingly nourishing fare. Dangling over this generic crime story are a fabulist's profound concerns about the spiritual and political directions actually taken by Jews and, for that matter, by a United States touched by fanatical Christianity. It's tricky, though, to reach for such offerings when you're holding on to your hat." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review" by , "[B]uilds upon the achievement of Kavalier and Clay, creating a completely fictional world that is as persuasively detailed as [Chabon's] re-creation of 1940s New York in that earlier book, even as it gives the reader a gripping murder mystery and one of the most appealing detective heroes to come along since Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe."
"Review" by , "The Yiddish Policemen's Union is certainly entertaining, a sprawling, poignant Judaic carnival on the tundra, where European Jewish culture might have ended up, had it not been destroyed."
"Review" by , "It is very good — let's just say that at the outset — a larger-than-life folk tale set in an alternate universe version of the present where issues of exile and belonging, of identity, nationality, freedom and destiny are examined through a funhouse mirror that renders them opaque and recognizable all at once."
"Review" by , "The hardboiled language of pulp spills from Chabon's characters'....[A] vibrant reimagining of the roman noir."
"Review" by , "[A] virtuoso imagining....The alternate universe he plays in is jokier and cartoon-broader than usual, but Chabon the serious artist means business....By the end, the plot bulges like a fatty pastrami sandwich. But in such an unholy land, what's not to love? (Grade: A-)"
"Review" by , "Chabon is attempting to cross Raymond Chandler with Isaac Bashevis Singer, and his hybrid is bracing and fun, and not only because the women in The Yiddish Policeman's Union are more than male foils."
"Review" by , "Some readers will adore this book and admire its undeniable originality, rich language and audacity. Others will hate it and find it bleak, overwrought and bewildering. But it will provoke strong reactions."
"Review" by , "[A] raucous, energetic novel that proves again Chabon's brilliance at inventing entire alternate worlds that are grounded in the truest of details and yet have a soaring, near fantastical quality."
"Review" by , "[W]ildly inventive....Raucous, acidulous, decidedly impolite, yet stylistically arresting, this book is bloody brilliant — and if it's way over the top, that's what makes Chabon such a great writer. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "[A]n alternate-history novel that succeeds as both a hardboiled detective story and a softhearted romance....A page-turning noir, with a twist of Yiddish, that satisfies on many levels."
"Review" by , "Chabon manipulates his bulging plot masterfully, but what makes the novel soar is its humor and humanity....Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ran the book-award table in 2000, and this one just may be its equal."
"Synopsis" by , The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay pens an homage to the stylish menace of 1940s noir, in a novel that imagines if Alaska, not Israel, had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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