Leave it to Michael Chabon to take the Jews directly from WWII and plunk them into what could best be described as Yiddish noir — set in Alaska. In this wacky tale, Jews were temporarily relocated to Sitka, Alaska, where they created a new world for themselves following the 1948 collapse of Israel. Now, 60 years later, their enclave is about to revert to Alaskan control. Into this setup, which is equal parts absurd and poignant, Chabon introduces a broken-down cop, a murder mystery, a chess playing junkie, and a criminal gang of Hasidim. All combined, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is fiercely imaginative, roaringly entertaining, and surprisingly profound. Recommended By Gigi L., Powells.com
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.
"[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
"[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)
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.