Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[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.)
"[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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"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 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
"The hardboiled language of pulp spills from Chabon's characters'....[A] vibrant reimagining of the roman noir." Oregonian
"[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
"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
"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
"[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
"[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)
"[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)
"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." Booklist (Starred Review)
"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." Joseph O'Neill, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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?