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The Yiddish Policemen's Union Paperback – 3 Mar 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (3 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007150938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007150939
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of seven novels - including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union - two collections of short stories, and one other work of non-fiction. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and children.

Product Description


‘His almost ecstatically smart and sassy new novel…Chabon is a spectacular writer…[and] is a language magician, turning everything into something else just for the delight of playing tricks with words…Chabon's ornate prose makes [Raymond] Chandler's fruity observations of the world look quite plain…He writes like a dream and has you laughing out loud, applauding the fun he has with language and the way he takes the task of a writer and runs delighted rings around it.’ Guardian

'He is the most wonderful vaudeville performer.' Philip Hensher, in the Spectator ‘Books of the Year’

‘Michael Chabon’s brilliant new novel starts with a bang…It hums with humour. It buzzes with gags…Superb images also team in this long novel: the accumulated reading experience is one of admiration, close to awe, at the vigour of Chabon’s imagination…a hilarious, antic whirl of a novel.’ Sunday Times

‘A divine gumshoe romp.’ Sam Leith, in the Spectator ‘Books of the Year’

'Chabon has written such a dazzling, individual, hyperconfident novel that it's tough to work out who wouldn't have fun reading it. If the thriller plot doesn't get you (and it's easily the equal of any detective story in the past five years) then the exuberant style and the sackfuls of great jokes will… Whichever way you cut it, “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” is pure narrative pleasure, high-class stuff from cover to cover. Only a shmendrik would pass it up.' Independent on Sunday

'What really impresses about Chabon's eighth book is the author's ability to take a far-off, unfamiliar landscape and make it so densely, vividly imagined that 50 pages in the reader feels like they've know it forever.' Daily Mail

'A marvellous, masterly reinvigoration of the detective genre.' Daily Telegraph

From the Publisher

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Like Haruki Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End
of the World (1991), Chabon plays with the conventions of the Chandlerian
private-eye novel, but that's only one ingredient in an epic-scale
alternate-history saga of Jewish life since World War II. The premise draws
on an obscure historical fact: FDR once proposed that Alaska, not Israel,
become the homeland for Jews after the war. In Chabon's telling, that's
exactly what happened, except, inevitably, it hasn't gone as planned: the
U.S. government now has enacted a policy that will evict all Jews without
proper papers from Sitka, the center of Jewish Alaska. In the midst of this
nightmare, browbeaten police detective Meyer Landsman investigates the
murder of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy who happens to be the disgraced
son of Sitka's most powerful rabbi. No one wants this case solved, from
Landsman's boss (his ex-wife, Bina) to the FBI, but our Yiddish Marlowe
keeps digging, uncovering apocalypse in the making. Chabon manipulates his
bulging plot masterfully, but what makes the novel soar is its humor and
humanity. Even without grasping all the Yiddish wordplay that seasons the
delectable prose, readers will fall headlong into the alternate universe of
Chabon's Sitka, where black humor is a kind of antifreeze necessary to
support life. And when Meyer, in the end, must "weigh the fates of the
Jews, of the Arabs, of the whole unblessed and homeless planet" against a
promise made to a grieving mother, it's clear that this parallel world
smells a lot like home. Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ran
the book-award table in 2000, and this one just may be its equal. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Bentley VINE VOICE on 18 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
Jewish culture has always interested me. All the Jewish characters and actors and writers and comedians on television got to play with language in such intriguing ways when I was a kid, with that surly sense of humour, that I admired them so much: Jackie Mason, Shatner & Nimoy, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Richard Belzer. And I love the sound of Yiddish. Meshugginer is one of my favourite words ever.

So I approached the Yiddish Policemen's Union with much joy, knowing that that wonderful take on life would be written so well here. Especially as Michael Chabon is one of those authors who always turns out something good.

The book is an alternate history peace in which Jewish refugees are not given Israel to live in at the end of the war, but instead move to Alaska. Meyer Landsman investigates the death of a young man with a strange charisma, and discovers that there is a threat to the Jewish nation and to the world, that neatly mirrors certain events in our world. Also, he has to contend with his ex-wife being his superior.

Part of the book is very much a detective story of the kind Dashiell Hammett or Robert Crais might write, but the alternate history and the binding of this with Jewish identity and culture draws the work a little higher. That there is a conspiracy at work is a little too formulaic, I think, but helps draw the novel to its conclusion, with its hope for the future.

The book has a great sense of humour, it's sharply written, with a good sense of location and living, breathing characters. Is it a detective novel with delusions of grandeur? Is it a literary novel that apes the popular style and deconstructs it to bring out the truth? Probably a bit of both, though I suspect that based on the interviews and reading lists in the back of book, that Chabon enjoys writing detective stories.

Either way, it's a fine read and well worth your time.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 July 2007
Format: Hardcover
The novel supposes that in 1940 the American Congress had passed the Sitka Settlement Act to allow the persecuted Jews of Europe to seek refuge, for an interim period of sixty years, in the newly created autonomous `federal district' of Sitka on Baranof Island, which my atlas tells me is a narrow sliver, about 100 miles long and 25 miles wide, in the south-eastern tail of Alaska. But it was a kind of ghetto: to appease the American public, the Act prohibited the refugees from moving off the island. A trickle of Jews, mainly from Germany and Poland, are supposed to have arrived there soon afterwards, to be joined after the war by a flood of Displaced Persons and other Jews who could not go to Israel, because that state is supposed to have been snuffed out by the Arabs after only three months. After the sixty years were up, Sitka was to `revert' to become part of Alaska and the Jews of Sitka were supposed to find somewhere else to go. By that time Sitka had a population of two million and had acquired a thoroughly Yiddish character, with Yiddish names for shops, districts and public buildings, Yiddish (secular) cops and Yiddish (religious) gangsters - all to the resentment of the original inhabitants of the area, the Tlingit Indian tribe. The book opens as the date of the `Reversion' draws near.

Meyer Landsman is a Yiddish police detective who has not been very effective in the past and now has to solve a murder. That genre is not unfamiliar, nor, especially in American fiction, is the laconic dialogue. But here the text is sprinkled with Yiddish words, whose meaning the non-Yiddish speaker can usually, but not always, work out. Yiddish has many wonderful curses, but sometimes only American four letter words will do.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Seán on 17 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is very much Noir-land, as well as being an alternative Jewish homeland where Yiddish is spoken rather than Hebrew. It follows many of the conventions of the detective thriller: the dysfunctional central character has issues with life, authority, stimulants, chess, religion, while his sidekick is less intelligent but stalwart; he is unable to do his job properly because of an interdiction from his boss, who is also his ex-wife; the action of the book takes place in low dives and involves grand conspiracies and human frailty; the detective can sustain a blow to the head and subsequently come to with no permanent damage. And there is even a car chase, of sorts.

Put like this, it makes it sound like I didn't like this book. Nothing could be further from the truth. The plot is definitely genre-fiction and the political stance will undoubtedly anger some people. But the man writes incredible, wonderful, beautiful prose. I don't think I have ever read a book where I stopped so often to re-read and admire a line which had me gasping with admiration or chuckling in amusement. And reading these lines, it struck me that many other writers could have come up with images of similar beauty but they would have overstated them, given them too heavy a treatment. There is a line somewhere where the snow is falling and he says something like "The footprints in the snow outside were as shallow as an angel's". A lesser writer would have spelled it out -the snow is falling so the footprints have been filled with fresh snow, making them look as if a figure with no weight or substance has left its imprint. Chabon suggests this but leaves the reader to fill in the gaps.
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