Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[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)
"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
"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
"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
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.
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.
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.