Synopses & Reviews
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 revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.
But 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. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.
"[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.)
"Chabon manipulates his bulging plot masterfully, but what makes the novel soar is its humor and humanity....Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ran the book-award table in 2000, and this one just may be its equal." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[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." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[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." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"[B]uilds upon the achievement of Kavalier & 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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"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." Los Angeles Times
"[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." Houston Chronicle
"It's disappointing to find this novel to be little more than a jokey pastiche of the generic noir detective story, rather than the wished-for full-blooded literary novel. What's even more disheartening is witnessing such a talented writer wasting his ability and the reader's patience with such an inept and offensive piece of work." Pittsburgh Post Gazette
"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." USA Today
"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." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[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-)" Entertainment Weekly
"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." Chicago Sun-Times
"It's half-brilliant but half-boring, maybe because Chabon has so fallen under the sway of his creation that he lost control of its tenets." Boston Globe
"The hardboiled language of pulp spills from Chabon's characters'....[A] vibrant reimagining of the roman noir." Oregonian
Best New Crime Writer of the Year: Winner of the CWA 2013 John Creasey Dagger Award
"Has the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller."
— New York Times
"Truly a page-turner...Norwegian by Night is about past wars and present-day ethnic strife, family, grief, guilt and, ultimately, redemption. Korea (and phantom Koreans), Vietnam, the Holocaust, ethnic identity — Serb, Norwegian, Muslim, and yes, Jewish — these are the true characters of the novel....Funny, moving and thoroughly gripping."
"A stunning examination of how our lives shape our character, and how our allegiances shape our destiny."
— Bethanne Patrick, AARP (1 of "12 Summer Reads for 2013")
"Derek B. Miller's debut novel, Norwegian by Night, is about aging snipers. Or, it's about parenting and loss. Or, the lingering traces of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It feels about as full as life itself, and almost as real."
—Jessica Young, Jewniverse
"[A] beautifully-written contribution to Nordic noir with a twist. It cleverly avoids many the genres clichés and pitfalls and emerges triumphant as a fully-dimensional gem."
—From the John Creasey Dagger Award Judges' Citation
"Both an exciting chase thriller and a poignant story about a man who comes into his own again in his dotage." --Library Journal "No brief plot outline can do justice to a book that deserves to find a place on a few best-of-the-year lists. Sheldon is a brilliantly imagined character, a true mensch, made of Greatest Generation stuff...Miller joins the ranks of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbø, the holy trinity of Scandinavian crime novelists." --Booklist, starred "Miller's affecting debut, about a cantankerous Jewish widower transplanted to Norway who becomes party to a hate crime, is an unusual hybrid: part memory novel, part police procedural, part sociopolitical tract and part existential meditation. Miller, an American living in Oslo...makes the setting a powerful character...The novel, first published in Norway, was worth the wait." --Kirkus Reviews "A literate, thoughtful and unusual thriller...Our image of Scandinavia is one of tolerance — Miller doesnt disagree with the image, but Norwegian by Night offers a fascinating fictional exploration of the meaning and implementation of that tolerance." --The Times (UK) "Norwegian by Night has all the ingredients of a top-notch thriller, but it's the superb characterisation of the protagonist that fuels true suspense. Funny and moving as well as thoroughly gripping, this is crime fiction of the highest order." --The Guardian "Much more than an enjoyable thriller. It is a beautifully written tale of love and loss...One of the best novels of the year."—Jenni Frazer, The Jewish Chronicle (UK) "This highly visual storytelling reads like a first draft of the script for an action-packed, emotionally satisfying movie, one that will appeal to both sexes." —Jewish Book Council Norwegian by Night's n ot just a great title, it's also a soulful, humane, and sparklingly funny novel. Spend some time with Sheldon and company in the Scandinavian wilderness and you just might make peace with your god, your ghosts, and yourself. -- Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story "Brilliant, serious literary crime and our favorite thing, Scandi-noir, but with a twist..." - Erica Wagner, The Times '100 people to watch in 2013' (UK) "NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT is an outrageously intelligent thriller, and its philosopher-sniper hero, Sheldon Horowitz, is a character who'll stay in your brain for decades. You might come for the guns and the ruckus, but by the last page, with your heart still pounding, you'll be crying at all the goddamned beauty and love in the world." - Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River and The Cradle "Norwegian by Night shifts along like an inquisitive wind, with characters who enter your mind so easily its as if theyve been there all along, and a voice so confident you would follow it into a leaning house. Generous with its wit, dazzling in its cultural and historical reach, Derek Millers novel is the kind of sweep-you-up tale a reader always wants but rarely finds, the kind where you stand in the bookstore reading the opening pages and whisper, This is the one."—Leif Enger, bestselling author of Peace Like a River "Have you ever lucked into one of those novels so taut and suspenseful that you can't turn the pages fast enough, yet, at the same time, so magnificently written and psychologically incisive that you find yourself unable to turn those same pages slowly enough? Such novels are as rare as great comets. Norwegian by Night, I'm happy to report, is one. Make sure you're in a comfortable spot when cracking this book; you won't be putting it down for an obscenely long while."—Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines "Humane, blackly funny, heartbreaking, full of believable people and with a touching, magnificent hero in Sheldon, this is one of the best books Ive read this year. Verdict: Brilliant."—Herald Sun (Australia) "Norwegian By Night [is] ostensibly a Scandinavian thriller yet recalls Saul Bellow and Philip Roths more cerebral creations…A remarkably confident debut that is at once a rich psychological study, a political parable that seems to be about Americas compulsion to intervene abroad, and a moving story of an old mans last chance to slay his demons."—John Dydale, The Sunday Times (UK) "A stunningly good debut thriller, subtle and moving, with a truly original hero…Literate, elegant and compelling."—Marcel Berlins, The Times (UK) "From the synopsis, it is impossible to harness all the themes and subtlety of prose that this book conveys to the reader. On one level, not only does the book contain all the quintessential elements of a Scandinavian crime novel, it also encompasses the Korean, Vietnam, and Balkan conflicts, and on a more emotional level, presents a poignant and meditative examination of aging and regret…I would urge everyone to read this exceptional debut, with its powerful and emotive themes…[as well as] all the tension of a totally authentic Scandinavian crime thriller. I cannot praise it highly enough, and Norwegian By Night could well be one of my top crime reads of the year. Outstanding." —Raven Crime Reads (blog)
From the New York Times
bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize comes a monumental work of imagination and his first full-length adult novel since the bestselling Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska and not Israel had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II? In Michael Chabon's Yiddish-speaking "Alyeska," 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, the leader of an extremist Orthodox sect whose influence runs powerfully through the web of Sitka society but behind the rebbe looms an even greater provocateur....Despite sensible protests from Berko, his half-Tlingit, half-Jewish partner, Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder. Even if that entails surrendering his badge and his dignity to the chief of Sitka's homicide unit also known as his fearsome ex-wife, Bina.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union interweaves homage to the stylish menace of 1940s noir with a bittersweet fable of identity, home, and faith. It is a novel of colossal ambition and heart from one of our most important and beloved writers at work today.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & 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.
A profoundly moving, deliciously suspenseful novel about an American grandfather and a newly orphaned boy racing across the Norwegian wilderness, fleeing demons both real and imagined.
Crime Writers Association John Creasey Dagger Award winner
An ECONOMIST TOP FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR
A FINANCIAL TIMES BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A GUARDIAN BEST CRIME AND THRILLER OF THE YEAR
A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR
A luminous novel, a police thriller, and the funniest book about war crimes and dementia you are likely to read
Sheldon Horowitz—widowed, impatient, impertinent—has grudgingly agreed to leave New York and move in with his granddaughter, Rhea, and her new husband, Lars, in Norway: a country of blue and ice with one thousand Jews, not one of them a former Marine sniper in the Korean War turned watch repairman, who failed his only son by sending him to Vietnam to die. Not until now, anyway.
Home alone one morning, Sheldon witnesses a dispute between the woman who lives upstairs and an aggressive stranger. When events turn dire, Sheldon seizes and shields the neighbors young son from the violence, and they flee the scene. But old age and circumstances are altering Sheldons experience of time and memory. He is haunted by dreams of his son Sauls life and by guilt over his death. As Sheldon and the boy look for a haven in an alien world, reality and fantasy, past and present, weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth.
Norwegian by Night introduces an ensemble of unforgettable characters—Sheldon and the boy, Rhea and Lars, a Balkan war criminal named Enver, and Sigrid and Petter, the brilliantly dry-witted investigating officers—as they chase one another, and their own demons, through the wilderness at the end of the world.
About the Author
Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Werewolves in Their Youth, Wonder Boys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Summerland (a novel for children), and The Final Solution. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.
Table of Contents
The 59th Parallel 1
River Rats 105
New River 193