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The Yiddish Policemen's Union [Paperback]

Michael Chabon
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2008

The brilliantly original new novel from Michael Chabon, author of THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY and WONDER BOYS.

What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska – and not Israel – had become the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War? 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, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its mission statement from the Cosa Nostra. Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder. Even if that means surrendering his badge and his dignity to the chief of Sitka’s homicide unit – his fearsome ex-wife Bina.

A novel of colossal ambition and heart, THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION interweaves a homage to the stylish menace of 1940s film noir with a bittersweet fable of identity, home and faith.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (3 Mar 2008)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 0007150938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007150939
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,674 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating 30 April 2008
By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Kavalier & Clay is one of my all time favourite books, and when this came out I pounced on it in eager anticipation of a fabulous read. I have to say I was slightly disappointed. Chabon's story telling style is still epic and at times very funny, even in a fairly bleak book like this and there were moments of great beauty and insight that made me light up inside and go 'oooh', but on the whole it was incredibly hard work.

The story revolves around the idea that part of Alaska has been ceded to the dispossessed Jews after WWII on the proviso that they only have it for sixty years and when that time is up they have to find somewhere else to go. The story starts just as the lease is about to expire. Meyer Landsman, a Jewish cop, has made a mess of his life and is living on vodka and cigarettes in a flophouse. A body in the same hostel turns his life around as he races to discover the murderer against the political clock ticking loudly in the background.

The basic cop story is traditional but done with this Jewish Noir twist that makes it extraordinary. It was however, extremely hard work if you are not Jewish or don't know much about Jewish life and lore, which I don't. There were quite a few things I didn't understand and which rather than break the flow and keep looking up every five minutes I decided to hope would become explicable as the book moved on. Some do, some don't, but it was quite frustrating, at times like reading a book in another language altogether.

Because of this it took me a long time to get into the story and I didn't really pick up the pace until nearly half way through. It's testament to Chabon's ability that I stuck with it that long, as with other books I would have been tempted to give up. As it is, the plot pulls you along nicely to the end and things become a lot more understandable as the book goes on.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Chosen Frozen 6 July 2007
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alaska? No, she went of her own accordion... 18 Sep 2008
By S. Bentley VINE VOICE
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it a thriller or... what
It's kind of a thriller but not all that gripping. It takes place in a fictionalised Alaskan province where many Jews settled after the second world war. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Theo
1.0 out of 5 stars Minuscule print
The item arrived promptly and well packaged and in good condition. However the print size was SO tiny I don't defy anyone to be able to read this edition. Read more
Published 26 days ago by CM livingstone
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine work of the imagination
Chabon adopts a Raymond Chandler-like style for his down-at-mouth cop, as the strange created history of this Jewish city in Alaska unfolds. Read more
Published 2 months ago by ballettlover
3.0 out of 5 stars An author carried away by his own cleverness
It is clear that Michael Chabon had a great deal of fun writing this novel, partly because it allowed him to create the Sitka District of Alaska, a make-believe alternative to the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dr R
4.0 out of 5 stars Half Raymond Chandler, half Morris West.
I don't want to ruin this book for anyone, so if you don't want to read spoilers I can summarise this review by saying the book is well worth reading, please judge it for... Read more
Published 4 months ago by W Greenhalf
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny and inventive
A brilliant writer on top form. You don't have to understand Yiddish to enjoy it. Quite long, but the invention keeps up to the end.
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars I struggled through this one
Not the easiest book to read as it is written in this bizarre language of detective-speak mixed with Yiddish. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Miss S E Breen
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull and difficult read
I tried so hard with this book and I rarely fail to finish a novel, but this one beat me. It is just so disappointingly boring.
Published 16 months ago by JVol
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Genius
What would have happened if a long-forgotten proposal in 1940 to give the Jews a temporary homeland in Alaska had come to pass? Read more
Published 16 months ago by Antenna
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful writing, glorious story
This was my first Chabon book and I am definitely now a fan!

The writing is superb,the depth incredible, but the story is still a great mystery that drags you into its... Read more
Published 17 months ago by A. L. Mills
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